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Cache of phony high-end items seized in Chinatown

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 1:44 a.m. HST, Dec 20, 2012

Federal agents seized 2,049 counterfeit designer purses, wallets, sunglasses and other faux luxury items Tuesday in what was called the largest such seizure ever in Hawaii.

Search warrants were executed at an undisclosed retailer near Hotel and Mauna­kea streets in the heart of Chinatown. Wayne K. Wills, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Honolulu office, said it was the largest seizure of counterfeit merchandise here.

Trafficking and smuggling of counterfeit items in violation of trademark laws carry a prison term of a year or more.

If the items were authentic, their value would be as high as $1.8 million, officials said. The haul of counterfeit goods was so large that a day after the raid "we are still actively engaged in the processing of this evidence," Wills said after a press briefing Wednesday afternoon.

No arrests were made but indictments are expected in the coming weeks and months, he said.

The items bear the trademarks of more than a dozen designer or well-known brands including Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermes and Coach. Wills said it is believed the items were imported from South Korea or China.

Agents acted on information provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is also part of Homeland Security, Wills said.

Despite the large haul, the products seized represented only a small fraction of counterfeit items that can be found at retailers, swap meets and elsewhere around the state, he said.

Tuesday's seizures will not be the last, he said.

Some people have a false impression that sales of knockoff luxury items don't hurt anyone when in fact it injures those companies who conduct business legally and legitimately, as well as those people who work for them, Wills said.

"It is not a victimless crime … there are consequences. It affects the livelihoods of others," he said.

Counterfeit items are also not just limited to luxury items, but other, possibly faulty goods from vehicular air bags to electrical switches, he said.

The seizures were part of Operation Holiday Hoax, an international law enforcement initiative targeting the importation and distribution of counterfeit and pirated products in an effort to protect companies producing copyrighted merchandise, as well as consumers.

The fake items seized Tuesday will be destroyed after they are no longer considered evidence.

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