Take Two

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Alex Cohen & A Martínez

The Counterfeit Detective: Where the Port of LA stores illegally imported goods

by A Martínez with Leo Duran | Take Two

All of these are counterfeit items confiscated by US Customs and Border Protection at one of their Long Beach facilities. Clockwise from top left: Duracell batteries (notice the character that looks like the Energizer bunny), high-end Nike sneakers, Marlboro cigarettes, and a Louis Vuitton handbag. "These fake Nikes are sometimes made so well," says Chief David Dodge. "In order to tell whether they're counterfeit, we might have to smell the glue which can be a giveaway." Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Out of the all the imported goods that come into the U.S., 43 percent of it goes through the Port of Los Angeles.

Everyday, shipments of electronics, cars, produce, clothing, and more arrive here from overseas bound for stores and homes across the country. But every now and then, not all is what it appears to be, and that beautiful Chanel handbag or those Beats by Dr Dre headphones?

A cheap copycat.

That’s when you need David Dodge, chief officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He's one of the department's "counterfeit detectives" who oversees the process to scan for fake goods, illegally imported items, invasive plants and insects from abroad, and more.

RELATED: A visual index of counterfeit goods on KPCC's AudioVision blog.

Interview Highlights:

What are the most popular items to counterfeit?

"We'll find a lot of counterfeit clothing, jeans, shirts, that kind of thing. Handbags are really big right now and actually they've been consistently very popular to counterfeit. Electronics now, more of these Beats by Dr. Dre-type headphones."

What are the more clever ways you've been people try to get things by you guys?

"It could be a lot of things, sometimes they will put legitimate cargo at the tail of a container, expecting us to open the container, see legitimate product, but then two or three rows back, the rest of the container is filled with counterfeits."

Have you ever looked at a container and thought, 'What were they thinking?'"

"One example of that is, we had a 40-foot container of counterfeit cigarettes, camouflaged by about two or three rows of toy cars. So we open up the tail and it looks like toy cars. We pull the box down, open up the box of toy cars, and the toy cars themselves had counterfeit trademarks on them. They hid a container full of fake counterfeit products behind fake counterfeit products. We got a chuckle out of that one."

What signs do you look for when searching for fakes?

"If you're at a store, it might be hard to spot a counterfeit Louis Vuitton, but we know that Louis Vuitton is not make in China, so if its in a container full of handbags coming from China, chances are it's not going to be legit. A lot of times you can't tell just by looking at it, you have to do some research. OUr officers will take the sample back to our office and do research, either on the Internet, or our databases where we have specific information on the trademarks that we enforce. 

Do you work with manufacturers to make sure you catch these people?

"Yes, the trademark owners actually recorded that information with us, so we have that information in our systems. We know who is authorized to bring it in, we know the different styles that are protected, we will know the points of contact if we have questions. Also, how to contact the trademark owner if we need help identifying whether or not this is legitimate or counterfeit."

What do you do with these counterfeit items?

"They will most likely be seized and held at our seized property facility until the case is fully adjudicated. After that it will most likely be destroyed. The importer and the shipper will both be subject to further exams in the future because they have a history now. If it raises to a certain level, we will refer it to our criminal investigators for a criminal action as well."

What would happen if you actually had to look at everything that comes through?

"I think the economy would collapse, almost overnight. A lot of the industry has just in time delivery of their goods, they don't warehouse these things for weeks and weeks. It's days at the most to getting on the store shelves. If containers didn't make it in, and it was interrupted to that degree, I think the economy would collapse."

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