Federal authorities in New Jersey said five people associated with one of the largest counterfeit goods smuggling operations in history have pleaded guilty.
This story first appeared in the August 20, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The five were among 29 people charged in the $325 million counterfeit ring taken down and revealed by federal officials in March 2012. The operation involved counterfeit smuggling and sales of well-known apparel and accessories brands, as well as large amounts of contraband drugs, authorities said in indictments and three criminal complaints at the time.
Yi Jian Chen, 53, and Hui Huang, 33, both of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Ning Guo, 40, of China, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods Friday before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in federal court in Newark. Guo also pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy.
Two others — Jian Zhi Mo, 45, of Flushing, N.Y., and Yuan Feng Lai, 28, of New York City — pleaded guilty Aug. 12 to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods.
The five defendants ran an international counterfeit goods smuggling and distribution conspiracy from August 2008 through February 2012, according to court documents. Their part in the operation involved illegally importing more than 35 containers of counterfeit goods, primarily bogus handbags, sneakers and cigarettes, to the U.S. from China, authorities said. The retail value was estimated at $47 million. Among the goods seized at the time were counterfeit Ugg and Timberland boots, Nike sneakers, Burberry scarves, Gucci handbags, Lacoste shirts, Coach and Louis Vuitton handbags and Polo sweatshirts.
According to court documents, the conspirators sought help and unknowingly agreed to use a corporation that was actually a front company set up by law enforcement to import the goods through Port Newark/Elizabeth Marine Terminal. They then used fraudulent customs paperwork, falsely declaring the goods within the containers. Authorities said several undercover special agents were introduced to the conspirators, who paid the agents more than $900,000 for “services” to help move the cargo through the port.
Each defendant faces up to 10 years in prison and a $2 million fine on the conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods charge. Guo faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or “twice the gain or loss caused be the offense” for the money laundering charge. All five defendants are scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 25.