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Feds issue warning following bust of downtown vendor: Counterfeit goods are dangerous

Street boutique
Street boutique
Photo by Simon Q via Flickr Creative Commons

Federal officials issued a caveat emptor today in their indictment of a downtown vendor charged with selling fake handbags and other accessories: some of those cheap knockoff goods could contain poisonous lead.

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced today that Leticia Nunez, 38, was charged following her arrest yesterday for allegedly trafficking in counterfeit goods. Nunez, who operated two booths downtown, faces two counts on that charge and could get up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Federal agents said they worked alongside LAPD detectives in searching Nunez’s businesses, including a Los Angeles storage facility she rents. What they found probably surprises no one: fake Tiffany jewelry, fake Chanel handbags, fake Dior, fake Bvlgari, fake Juicy Couture, etc. According to special agents, “the seized items represent an estimated loss in revenue to the legitimate trademark holders of more than $130,000.”

Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, stated that “the sale of product knockoffs is not a victimless crime” -- the victims being billion-dollar fashion industry leaders. And he implicated the people buying it: “Retailers and vendors who deal in counterfeit goods are selling stolen property, and consumers who knowingly buy those products are essentially an accessory to the crime. Product counterfeiting undermines the U.S. economy, robs Americans of jobs, stifles American innovation and promotes other types of crime.”

Most people already knew that the stuff being sold downtown is fake designer. But federal officials buried the lead in noting that a previous bust in Orange County led to the seizure of “handbags, watches, clothing and jewelry bearing counterfeit trademarks for designer brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Coach, Fendi, Rolex, Prada and Burberry. Subsequent testing revealed some of the seized jewelry contained hazardous levels of lead. Investigators say had the items been genuine, they would have had a retail value of more than $400,000.”

Even when people are exposed to dangerous lead poisoning, the real victims remain the major retailers.