3 plead guilty to importing, selling fake jewelry

A married couple and a relative who ran a downtown Los Angeles jewelry store pleaded guilty today to federal charges of illegally importing and selling counterfeit designer jewelry, some of which tested positive for hazardous levels of lead.

Il Keun Oh, also known as James Ken Oh, 57, and his wife Jacqueline Oh, 55, owners of Elegance Fashion Mart on Olympic Boulevard, and her brother, Joon Yeop Kim, 47, a manager at the store, entered their pleas in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.

The three each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of introducing and delivering a hazardous substance. The defendants, who each face a maximum term of more than five years in prison, are expected to be sentenced Oct. 18.

The hazardous substance charge was lodged after lab tests showed some of the counterfeit jewelry seized in the case contained nearly 20 times the amount of lead deemed safe by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for handling by children, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Despite that, the items were labeled as "lead free.''

The investigation stems from a tip ICE received in 2007 that the Oh's jewelry store, which operated as both a retail and wholesale business, was selling counterfeit designer merchandise.

During the course of the probe, ICE agents seized more than 25,000 counterfeit pieces of Chinese-made jewelry and accessories ranging from necklaces, rings and bracelets to watches, hair ornaments and cell phone charms, the agency said.

"To people who think designer knockoffs are a harmless way to beat the system and get a great deal — buyer beware,'' said ICE agent Claude Arnold.

"Part of what you're paying for when you buy established brands, regardless of the product, is quality control. As this case shows, when you purchase counterfeit items, you can easily get something you hadn't bargained for, something that could put you and those around you at risk.''

The fakes included nearly a dozen well-known designer brands, including Tiffany and Co., Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Christian Dior,Van Cleef and Arpels and Hello Kitty.

Had the seized products been genuine, they would have had an estimated retail value of more than $18 million, ICE said.