2 charged under new counterfeit goods law Bogus designer items sold at stand, police say

February 28, 1997|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

Two men who set up shop directly across from the state police barracks in Jessup are the first to be charged under a new state trademark counterfeiting law.

Police said the two men are suspected of selling thousands of dollars in counterfeit designer goods -- Tommy Hilfiger sweat shirts and watches, Rolex watches and Disney T-shirts that came with Warner Brothers cartoon characters -- from their roadside stand y across the street from the Waterloo barracks on U.S. 1 at Route 175.

State police arrested Lamonte C. Thomas, 27, of the 5300 block TC of Brook Way in Columbia, and Kirby C. Griffin, 25, of the 2200 block of N. Monroe St. in Baltimore on Feb. 14 after several weeks of surveillance and charged each with five counts of violating the trademark counterfeiting law.

Sgt. Dave Keller, a detective with the state's Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement Unit, said that naive bargain hunters could have been easily fooled.

"Everything was marked down to a good price and was of real good quality," Keller said. "Their display was really nice, too, and everything was packaged real well. I have to say, these guys did a very good job."

Keller said the stand was set up every Friday afternoon. He said so-called Rolex watches were available for $75; videotapes of recent films went for $10, and often were sold out within one hour.

"We knew that the stuff was fake because real stuff would only be sold in a retail space," Keller said. "We also know that Tommy Hilfiger doesn't make watches, and a real Rolex costs at least $800."

The law, which went into effect in October, makes it a crime to manufacture, display, distribute and sell items that counterfeit a trademark registered with the state.

The sale of more than $1,000 worth of fake items is a felony; a sale that brings less than that is a misdemeanor.

The men, who face felony charges carrying a possible 15-year sentence and $10,000 fine, were released on their own recognizance, police said.

The new measure gives law enforcement officials the authority to seize the items and transfer them to the owner of the counterfeited brand after a conviction. The merchandise is then generally destroyed.

More than 200 state and local police officers -- including the officers involved in the Jessup arrests -- were trained to spot counterfeit merchandise two months ago during a seminar sponsored by the state attorney general's office.

Participants included representatives from some of the most prestigious design houses in the country, including Hilfiger, Rolex, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan.

Internationally, such counterfeiting is thought to cost $200 billion a year through lost sales, lost tax revenue and lost jobs.

The goods confiscated by police during the Jessup arrests were made in China and Korea. Asian countries have been the source of many counterfeit goods, most produced for their own domestic markets. Counterfeiting has been a major issue in international trade negotiations in recent years.

"Maryland had no laws dealing with counterfeiting, and it caused businesses and citizens to lose money and jobs," said state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat who co-sponsored the trademark counterfeiting bill.

"It's hard to estimate how much money this will save Maryland and residents," he said.

"We'll just have to see how it works."

Steven Gursky, an attorney for companies like Hilfiger, Nautica, DKNY, Polo and Nike, among others, said arrests like the ones made by the state police are akin to picking up small-time operators.

"We're always trying to get the main guy, and follow him on up the chain," Gursky said. "What this new trademark law does is tell the little criminals as well as the big bosses that they'll have to go to jail if they counterfeit our products."

For highbrow designers, the loss of sales through counterfeiting might not be as important as the damage to their image.

"These people spoil the brand name of the product," Gursky said.

"The fact that it's available for sale on a street corner makes customers lose respect for the designer."

Spring Thompson, of the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition, said, "Cracking down on counterfeiters is much more than protecting the intellectual property rights of designers. This is one of the fastest and largest growing crimes internationally."

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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