NEW YORK -- Plagued with a proliferation of counterfeit designer merchandise, lawyers, trade representatives and other officials from apparel and fashion firms, from Liz Claiborne to Chanel, vented their frustrations at local and federal figures during a recent industry meeting here.

"The fashion industry is getting smacked tremendously," said Al Checkett, head of worldwide corporate security at Calvin Klein Cosmetic Co., who was one of 26 industry people at a roundtable discussion. The session was organized by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D., N.Y.), whose district includes a large chunk of the fashion industry.

"And it's very much of an uphill battle," Checkett said. "We need to find out what other resources are available to get the extra help we need."

Maloney, who formed the Fashion Advisory Industry last summer, said she was considering proposing national legislation that would put a dent in the booming business of bogus goods. Exactly how this could be done has yet to be determined, she said.

A Maloney aide said he did not know how large the business was, but an estimate last year from the International Chamber of Commerce put the take in all types of counterfeit goods at $70 billion a year.

During the hour-long meeting, fashion industry officials vigorously complained to William Duff, supervisory special agent to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and Leroy Frazer Jr., deputy bureau chief at the Manhattan district attorney's office, about the companies' often futile efforts to combat the problem -- particularly, to get cooperation from the police -- and asked for help from federal and state authorities.

"We hit these people many different times, and they still come back," complained Veronica L. Hrdy, vice president at Chanel Inc. She said the company spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on seizures of counterfeit merchandise in a 20-block area of peddlers and warehouses, mostly in downtown Manhattan.

Hrdy, along with officials from Louis Vuitton and Fendi, worked for a New York State law passed in November 1992 that upgraded the sale and manufacturing of counterfeit products from a misdemeanor to a felony in cases where the value of confiscated goods exceeded $3,000. But industry people at the meeting said it hasn't been effective because judges were reluctant to impose heavy sentences on counterfeiters.Hrdy said Chanel's counterfeit problem was not with other retail stores themselves but with the street vendors, who can always relocate a few blocks away.

Duff told the group that strong federal laws were already on the books, but the FBI and other federal agencies were grappling with reduced manpower. Violators can be prosecuted under Title 18 under U.S. Code Section 2320 on trademark counterfeits, and that they can be fined up to $250,000 and get up to five years in jail, he said.

"We have a full plate on our hands, and the attitude in the agency has been to prosecute only if the victim has exhausted all civil remedies first, and where the criminal act is sizable and widespread," Duff noted, adding that his department has received very few complaints of counterfeiting. He suggested the industry take its cue from the Motion Pictures Association, which has formed an anti-piracy division to enforce copyright infringement. Frazer of the district attorney's office, who gets a number of complaints on the issue, also bemoaned the lack of manpower in his office. He said the strategy has been to round up major players, not the small ones, in the counterfeit trade, attacking the "organizational structure."

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