Though they had received two letters this month from Baltimore police ordering them to cease and desist, 30 vendors at the Patapsco Flea Market were arrested yesterday morning and charged with selling counterfeit clothing.
More than 60 Baltimore police officers and private investigators dressed in military fatigues raided the popular small-business venue at Patapsco Avenue and Annapolis Road about 8: 50 a.m.
They confiscated more than $1 million worth of what police said was counterfeit Nike, Timberland, and Tommy Hilfiger clothing.
"The customers are buying clothing, and they think they're getting name-brand clothing but they're not," said Maj. Barry Powell, who heads the property crimes section of the city's Criminal Investigations Bureau.
Police had been investigating alleged fraudulent sales at the market for the past month. With undercover representatives from some of the biggest clothing companies, police discovered what they said was counterfeit clothing and handed cease-and-desist letters to the violators.
Yesterday, police filled hundreds of trash bags with the suspect merchandise. The bags were loaded into a tractor-trailer. If the merchandise is proven to be counterfeit, it will be donated to homeless shelters, police said.
The clothes, which included sweat shirts, sweat pants and jackets, looked like the name-brand items found in stores, said Maj. Kathleen Patek, commander of the city's Southern District.
But police said a closer inspection revealed that the original labels on the clothing had been replaced with fake name-brand labels.
Lt. Barry Baker of the Southern District said some vendors tried to escape through a rear exit of the market when police arrived. Others tried to hide their illegal goods by stuffing them into trash cans.
Other vendors, who were not targeted, criticized police for closing the market during the raid and said police should focus instead on dangerous criminals.
"They should be trying to catch the drug pushers," said 61-year-old Walter Salter, who has been selling women's clothes for two years. "People out here are just trying to make an honest living."
And one vendor said he could sympathize with the plight of sellers of counterfeit goods.
"No big company is going to give you a chance to sell their stuff," said Bobi Todorov, 36, who sells T-shirts and sweat shirts. "You ++ want to sell it for the companies, but they just say no."