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Drug cartels grab a piece of the market for knock-off goods

Drug cartels grab a piece of the market for knock-off goods

By Melissa Zamarripa and Sofia Aguirre

EL PASO – Federal agents in El Paso are investigating the link between counterfeit and pirated merchandise and organized crime, specifically Mexican drug cartels. According to U.S. officials, a knock-off Michael Kors handbag sold here can be connected to the bloodshed in Ciudad Juarez.

Oscar Hagelsieb, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations office in El Paso, says commercial intellectual property rights fraud can impact public safety and homeland security.

Counterfeit goods raided on Fox Plaza, El Paso. (Courtesy of ICE)
“It (trafficking of counterfeit goods) is not a victimless crime as people would believe. You’re putting money directly into the pockets of the cartel. Those $15 that go to the cartel, could’ve bought a round of ammunition that killed an innocent person in Juarez.”

Hagelsieb said that not only does this type of criminal activity violate intellectual property rights laws, but it is now directly affecting El Paso and surrounding areas’ public safety and economy. The presence and criminal activities related to drug cartels, which are prominent across the U.S.-Mexico border, are filtering into El Paso. Acts of violence in Mexico have been confirmed by HSI in El Paso, Hagelsieb said.

On Sunday, April 15, 2012, uniformed and plain-clothed HSI special agents descended on the Fox Plaza swap meet and seized nearly 20,000 counterfeit items with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of nearly $900,000.

As flea market shoppers strolled around the bustling parking lot, HSI agents inspected and boxed everything from pirated DVDs and CDs to fake designer purses and Nike high-heeled shoes.

The raid by Homeland Security intelligence officers took place in April 15 and seized nearly 20,000 items. (Courtesy of ICE)
Months before the enforcement action in one of the oldest and most popular swap meets along the border in El Paso, HSI agents began following investigative leads and making undercover purchases of counterfeit merchandise peddled in Fox Plaza.

The investigation is ongoing. And while no direct tie has been made between Fox Plaza vendors of counterfeit goods and drug trafficking organizations, Hagelsieb said HSI has confirmed that connection elsewhere.

In Monterrey, Mexico, where Hagelsieb was assigned before taking the post in El Paso, members of criminal organizations have monopolized the world of piracy. He said…

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