Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in New York arrested five people Thursday for their alleged roles in a conspiracy to import more than $40 million of counterfeit merchandise into the city’s ports.

This story first appeared in the March 6, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Authorities charge that a yearlong undercover investigation showed Chang Miao Ye, Guo Long Xu, Xue Hu Huang, Xiao Fang Zhu and Ke Ren Wang all aided in some way in the shipment of containers that held fake Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Nike footwear.

All five were arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn late Thursday afternoon. Each faces a statutory maximum 20-year prison sentence. A judge released Zhu on bond but held her co-defendants.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested the alleged co-conspirators earlier in the day after participating in the controlled delivery of two containers that carried counterfeit goods with a street value of about $2.1 million, authorities said.

According to a complaint filed this month, the agency began its investigation in March 2008 after a cooperating witness informed it of the group’s desire to smuggle shoes, bags and other items into the country. Between last June and the time of the arrests, undercover agents helped broker the import of 62 containers from China, only 15 of which were actually delivered, the complaint revealed.

Containers seized by the agency held counterfeits with an estimated street value of more than $40 million, authorities said.

Meanwhile, in Rome, 150,000 pieces of counterfeit Burberry clothing and accessories were seized at the Italian capital’s Fiumicino Airport on Thursday, according to AFP reports. Police and customs officers found the fake clothing — all labeled with the Burberry logo — among a consignment of goods from China. The street value of the clothes was estimated at around 10 million euros, or $12.5 million at current exchange. Following the find, Italian police have launched an investigation into importing counterfeit goods against five individuals, three of whom are from China and two from Italy. A Burberry spokesman declined comment Thursday.