Counterfeit goods seized in Chinatown

Large bust Tuesday morning
February 26, 2008 4:36:44 PM PST
More than $1 million of counterfeit Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Rolex and Coach goods have been seized in an early morning Chinatown raid by the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement. The two-month probe by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Office of Special Enforcement focused on an area of downtown Manhattan that has long been notorious for the wide array of knockoffs for sale on the street.

Bloomberg said at a news conference that investigators in the special unit - which includes police, building inspectors and finance inspectors - made dozens of undercover purchases of illegal goods, including handbags, perfume, clothing and jewelry.

"People that come to this city and want to have a business here are getting defrauded and robbed by those who counterfeit their brands," Bloomberg said, "and we want all companies in this country and this world to understand if they come to New York, we will protect their rights."

The early morning raid focused on three buildings that house a collection of smaller shops in an area known as the "Counterfeit Triangle," bounded by Canal, Walker and Centre streets.

Officials said police used bolt-cutters to burst into the shops where counterfeiting was suspected, and police spent the day hauling away heaps of knockoffs in tractor trailers.

No arrests were made in connection with Tuesday's raid though officials did not rule out criminal charges later. Bloomberg said the enforcement powers of the unit, created in 2006 to crack down on trademark counterfeiting and other quality-of-life violations, rely largely on civil law.

The city also won a temporary court order to shutter the 32 illegal stores. To be able to reopen, the owner of the buildings faces thousands of dollars in fines, Bloomberg said.

Officials said inspectors were finding numerous other code violations and had also shut down an illegal massage parlor in the basement of one of the buildings. In another, officials found illegal residences and forced out several residents living there.

The buildings are owned by the estate of Vincent Terranova, according to spokeswoman Leah Terranova. "We are cooperating with the mayor's office and with the New York City Police Department and working with them together to remedy this situation on Canal Street," she said.

Shari Hyman, director of the special enforcement unit, said the buildings in question had run up previous violations relating to counterfeiting, dating back several years.

Court papers show that a year ago, after Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Marc Jacobs and other high-end designers sued the Terranova estate in federal court, the owners agreed in a settlement to get rid of counterfeit sales on their properties and to allow a monitor to inspect their buildings for two years.