Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have seized more than 260,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $20 million. The items included jerseys, hats, cell-phone accessories and thousands of other bogus items prepared to be sold to unsuspecting consumers.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representatives announced on Thursday that the joint investigative effort led by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) also led to 56 arrests with 50 convictions.
Operation Team Player is a year-round effort developed by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) to crackdown on the illegal importation of counterfeit sports apparel and merchandise.
The results were revealed at a press conference hosted by the NFL with participation from ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Houston Police Department, Harris County District Attorney’s Office and Harris County Constable’s Office.
“Criminal elements use major sporting events like the Super Bowl as an opportunity to sell substandard and counterfeit goods to the American public,” said Acting ICE Director Thomas D. Homan. “ICE special agents are committed to collaborating with industry and law-enforcement agencies to crackdown on counterfeiting that significantly impacts local economies and funnels money into organizations involved in additional illicit activities.”
Speaking during the press conference, NFL Vice President of Legal Affairs, Dolores DiBella, stated that “the NFL is proud to continue its work with ICE, the IPR Center, and law enforcement departments throughout the country to protect fans and consumers who are seeking an authentic NFL experience during the celebration of Super Bowl LI. Their collaborative enforcement efforts advance consumer protection goals for every industry, year-round.”
This year’s Operation Team Player, which saw significant increases in arrests and convictions, began at the conclusion of last year’s Super Bowl.
“Collaborative efforts like Operation Team Player put the health and safety of the American people and the vitality of our economy first,” said Acting CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. “CBP is proud to partner with ICE, the IPR Center and local authorities to ensure businesses and consumers are protected from intellectual property thieves.”
“Super Bowl fans should beware of the scammers descending on Houston and flooding the internet with fake fan gear,” said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center. “For consumers, the best defense against counterfeit sellers is a good offense: only purchase known brands from known sellers that bear the official holographic marks of authenticity.”