COUPON  QUEEN  IS  CONVICTED!

 

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The  “Queen”  of  coupon  counterfeiting  has  accepted  a  plea  deal  that  will  land  her in  jail  for  up  to  two  years!  Robin  Ramirez,  the  owner  and  operator  of  the  now  non-operational  website  http://www.savvyshoppersite.com,  has  pleaded  guilty  to  multiple  charges  in  Maricopa  County  Court.

Ms. Ramirez  was  arrested  by  the  Phoenix  Police  Department  in  June  of  2012  as  part  of  the  world’s  largest  ever  coupon  counterfeiting  bust.  The  Phoenix  PD  seized  over  $35,000,000 worth  of  counterfeit  coupons  in  the  case  and  Ms.  Ramirez  has  been  in  custody  since  the  time  of  her  arrest. CLICK HERE for the video depicting the media coverage of the seizure.

Ms. Ramirez  was  operating  her  counterfeit  coupon  empire  from  her  high  end  home  in  Phoenix,  Arizona.  She  would  only  sell  her  counterfeits  through  her  website  and  was  distributing  the  bogus  coupons  throughout  the  United  States.

The  scope  and  depth  of  her  operation  was  nothing  less  than  amazing.  Ramirez  was  selling  every  type  of  coupon  that  you  could  think  of.  She  had  coupons  for  pizza,  diapers,  coffee,  dog  food,  fast  food  restaurants  and  detergent.  You name it and she had it.

The  case  was  truly  an  amazing  example  of  a  very  high  level  counterfeit  operation  that  was  generating  millions  of  dollars  in  revenue.  Many  folks  within  the  law  enforcement  community  had  no  idea  before  this  case  that  counterfeit  coupons  were  such  a  problem.  In  fact,  it  is  estimated  that  the  losses  each  year  due  to  coupon  counterfeiting  may  exceed  $500,000,000!    

The  Phoenix  PD’s  investigation  was  led  by  Officer  Sara  Garza  and  Sergeant  Dave  Lake  and  they  were  also  assisted  by  The  Maricopa  County  Attorney’s  Office and  The  FBI.  Their  diligence  in  this  case  is  what  caused  such  an  outstanding  result.  Based  on  their  efforts,  the  County  of  Maricopa  was  also  able  to  seize  over  $ 2,000,000  in  assets,  which  included  cash,  luxury  cars,  a  speed  boat,  properties,  and  lots  of  high  end  recreational  vehicles.

Ms. Ramirez  had  so  many  toys  that  she  needed  to  rent  an  aircraft  hangar  to  store  all  her  cars,  RVs  and  other  toys  inside.  Let’s  not  forget  the  now seized custom  Corvette  that  was  valued  at  over  $150,000!

Officer Garza was simply incredible.  If  it  were  not  for  her  efforts  to  find  and  locate  the  assets  in  this  case,  it  is  likely  that  the  asset  seizure  would  have  been  much  less.  If  Officer  Garza  did  not  go  at  this  case  the  way  she  did,  the  Coupon  Queen  would  likely  have  retained  all  this  wealth  from  her  illicit  activity.

Officer  Garza  really  put  her  all  into  this  case  and  deserves  special  recognition  for  her  efforts!  Well done Sara!!!

The  “approach”  to  the  case  that  the  Phoenix  PD  took  was  very  thought  out  and  methodical  and  is  what  led  to  such  an  overwhelming  success.  Ms. Ramirez  is  looking  at  2  years in  jail  and  7  years  of  probation.  If  she  violates  her  probation,  she  has  a  15  year  sentence  hanging  over  her  head.  She will also have to pay the victims restitution.  Two  of  her  co-defendants  have  also  been  convicted  as  part  of  the  case.

We  applaud  the  efforts  of  law  enforcement  in  this  case  and  believe  that  this  is  a  great   outcome.  We  are  very  excited  that  the  Coupon  Queen  is  now  out  of  business.

TOBACCO DETECTION K9 IN CALIFORNIA

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Investigative   Consultants  is  proud  to  announce  that  we  now  have  a  Tobacco  Detection  K9  named  Max  on  full-time  duty.  Max  has  just  been  placed  into  action  and  is  available  to  assist  law  enforcement  upon  request  with  any  tobacco  related  investigations.  Max’s  handler  is  a  former  Sergeant  from  The  Orange  County  Sheriff’s  Department.

The  illicit  tobacco  trade  is  growing  every  day  and  with  increased  enforcement  by  law  enforcement, the  traffickers  of  illicit  tobacco  are  taking  great  steps  to  conceal their  illegal  products.

In  the  past  several  months,  we  have  seen  hidden  compartments  and  other  methods  being  used  by  the  traffickers  to  conceal  their  inventories.  The  compartments  are  becoming  more  and  more  sophisticated  and  some  have  been  downright  ingenious.

During  an  initial  search  of  a  location  in  Glendale,  California  recently,  it  appeared  that  there  was  no  illicit  tobacco  inside,  however  once  a  detection  dog  was  unleashed,  a  hidden  compartment  was  located  by  the  K9.  The  compartment  contained  a  large  amount  of  illicit  cigarettes  and  $10,000.00  in  cash.

Max  is  an  awesome  asset  in  the  fight  to  stop  the  illicit  tobacco  trade.  If  you  would  like  Max  to  assist  you,  please  contact  info@investigativeconsultants.com

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The Underground Economy

Kris Buc8067_IC_Kris-powerPoint_img_proof_150kner, President, Investigative Consultants                                                    

Statement before the Little Hoover Commission

23 JANUARY 2014

My name is Kris Buckner and I am the President of Investigative Consultants (IC). IC is a licensed private investigative company based in California that specializes in investigations related to trademark counterfeiting, piracy and other Intellectual Property matters. Our job is to investigate the manufacture, sales and distribution of illicit products on behalf of the brands we represent. IC is one of the nation’s leading investigative firms specializing in these types of cases and investigations.

I have been conducting these types of investigations for over 19 years and my company currently represents over 100 different brands, including some of the world’s largest and most famous brands, along with many smaller brands that are just starting to make an impact in the marketplace.

Our company represents all types of industries including pharmaceutical, consumer goods, electronics, luxury, tobacco, apparel, music, entertainment and many others in their efforts to protect their brands and consumers.

IC conducts training for law enforcement officers all over the United States and we have trained well over 10,000 officers in the methods of conducting counterfeiting and piracy investigations. In the past, our training classes have even been P.O.S.T. approved.

I founded Investigative Consultants in 1994. At that time, IC was a single person operation and over the past several years, we have grown tremendously. We now employ upwards of thirty fulltime employees that are focused solely on battling this ever growing problem of counterfeiting & piracy. The reason for our massive growth is because the problem of counterfeiting and piracy has grown substantially over the years and there are no indications that the problem is going away anytime soon.

The problem has grown and will continue to grow because these crimes are considered by criminals to be very low risk and very high reward. The criminals could not be more accurate in their assessment. This is like no other crime that I am aware of. You can make millions in illicit profits and face very little risk of serving any significant prison time.

Our team conducts investigations all over the state of California and on the internet. We have located counterfeit and pirated goods being sold in all types of establishments. There is no shortage of individuals or companies, who are engaging in the sales and distribution of counterfeit goods. The problem is a major issue for the state of California and the entire country as a whole.

The role of IC is to investigate on behalf of the brand owners we represent to uncover evidence of counterfeiting activities. If we develop solid evidence that some person or group is engaged in the counterfeit goods trade, we will provide the evidence developed to the appropriate law enforcement agency. In the course of law enforcement’s investigation, if counterfeit goods are seized, our company will assist law enforcement on behalf of the brand owner, in the identification, inventory and storage of the counterfeit items. In sum, we represent victim companies and assist law enforcement to ensure that counterfeiters are brought to justice.

We have worked on hundreds of cases with agencies ranging from The LAPD, The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, The Placer County Sheriff’s Department, The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, The FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, The United States Secret Service, California Board of Equalization and many other outstanding agencies.

Our team has encountered difficulties in getting some local agencies involved in working these types of investigations due to budgetary issues or the overall lack of understanding how serious these crimes really are. Many of these cases cross county lines and quite often, the local agencies we are working with are unable to pursue the case into another jurisdiction.

Intellectual Property crimes and the other related crimes associated to the Underground Economy are leading to the Economic Undermining of America. I am very thankful that the commission is looking into the Underground Economy and its ties to Intellectual Property crimes, how it impacts the State of California and how we can better battle these issues.

The Underground Economy – The Current Landscape

Simply stated, the Underground Economy is out of control. Counterfeiting and piracy is just one aspect of the problem. In a study conducted by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) on counterfeiting and piracy, the study showed that Los Angeles County lost 485 million dollars in lost tax revenue and 105,000 jobs in the year 2005 alone.

This study was focused solely on Los Angeles County, so imagine what the lost tax revenue is for the entire state of California. How many jobs is the state of California losing because of the Underground Economy? These numbers are staggering and I believe the problem is only getting worse.

Trademark Counterfeiting is not just limited to the latest designer purse or that high end luxury watch. Counterfeiters will counterfeit anything as long as they are making money and they do not care if anyone gets hurt or killed as long as cash is making it into their pockets.

We have seen cases involving counterfeit cancer medication, as well as other lifesaving pharmaceutical products. There are other cases involving counterfeit brake pads, aircraft parts, electronics, cough syrup, shampoo, bullet proof vests, and tobacco. The manufacturers of counterfeit products have no regard for the public’s health and safety.

Many people think counterfeiting is a victimless crime or its just some “big corporation” losing money. There is a lot more to it than most people realize. Many small legitimate businesses are also suffering, along with numerous other legitimate companies.

In my opinion, the general public has no appreciation for how many retail establishments are driven out of business every year by counterfeiters. As everyone knows, there is great demand for brand name products. How can a legitimate small retailer compete? Consumers are given the option of buying a pair of generic sunglasses for $20 from a legitimate store or going next door and buying a pair of brand name counterfeit sunglasses for the same price. Far too many consumers buy the counterfeit brand name sunglasses and the legitimate business ends up losing a sale.

I receive calls regularly from legitimate small business owners begging me to investigate their “counterfeit competitors.” These legitimate businesses know that they will be quickly driven out of business if the seller of counterfeit goods is allowed to continue to operate next door to them. The legitimate business owner understands that the consumer only has a limited amount of money to spend and if the money is spent on counterfeit goods, the legitimate business loses out.

Counterfeiting and Piracy is a large “cash cow” business. A majority of all transactions are done in cash and these operations rarely charge tax or even provide a receipt. I see this on a daily basis during our investigations, where subjects are selling counterfeit goods and requiring that all payments be made in cash. Many of the operations do not even have the required state and city licenses that are required to do business. The counterfeiters boast that they only accept cash because they do not want to pay taxes and do not want their funds to be traced.

During my 19 years of conducting these types of investigations, I have only come across one counterfeit organization that actually paid all their taxes and accounted for all their sales. This subject did not know it was a crime to sell counterfeit goods. Most of the other operations we see do not appear to be properly reporting their fair share of taxes.

I have interviewed several counterfeiters over the years and have been told time and time again that the counterfeit operations deal in huge sums of cash and that these organizations do not properly report their sales. I have also seen firsthand evidence of this. The counterfeiters advised me that they all take steps to “hide” their money, including wiring their money outside the United States or securing it in safety deposit boxes. The counterfeiters know that if they deposit the funds into a financial institution that they must make deposits under $10,000 and not conduct transactions that will raise the suspicions of banking officials. It has been made very clear to me that counterfeiters are well educated and know how to “play the game” to avoid detection by law enforcement.

We have seen evidence of large scale money laundering and structuring during our investigations, along with ties to other more serious crimes, such as narcotics sales, assaults, human trafficking, robbery, and weapons trafficking.

Organized Crime groups, Gangs and Terrorist Organizations have realized that the Underground Economy is a great way for them to make huge profits for their organizations and face less scrutiny by law enforcement if they were to engage in more traditional criminal activity known to be carried out by their groups. In the past several years, we have seen cases in California involving the 18th Street gang, MS 13, The Bloods, The Crips, Hezbollah and many others.

These groups of criminals know that they can engage in such crimes as trademark counterfeiting and piracy and make millions of dollars in the Underground Economy.

I have spent countless hours interviewing counterfeiters and I have always asked them why they became involved in counterfeiting and the answer is always basically the same, they can make huge amounts of money selling counterfeit goods and face very little risk of going to prison. They always say that the risk is worth the reward.

There are estimates that counterfeiting and piracy costs the global economy in the area of 500 Billion Dollars a year and that up to 8% of goods in the marketplace may be counterfeit. This is just one small aspect of the Underground Economy. It is only logical that California alone is suffering greatly because of the effects of the Underground Economy.

Sales of Counterfeit Goods in California

The sales of counterfeit goods are happening on a daily basis throughout the state. Whether you are at a local swap meet, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco or Santee Alley in Los Angeles, you will find counterfeit goods being sold. Counterfeit goods are being sold in every type of venue you can think of.

You can visit the internet and find endless postings for counterfeit goods and individuals willing to meet you at your local coffee shop parking lot with a trunk full of the latest knock off headphones, jerseys, purses, jewelry, sunglasses or anything you want.

Counterfeiting has evolved in the past several years and we have seen a huge increase in online sales. Counterfeiters can now communicate and arrange their sales and purchasing through various social media outlets and websites.

Counterfeiters can be in instant contact with their suppliers in source countries outside the United States and arrange for counterfeit goods to be shipped to the USA in a matter of minutes. The counterfeit goods will be on a plane headed to the United States within hours of the order being placed. Some counterfeit operations are more efficiently organized than a fortune 500 business.

The reason why counterfeit sales are rampant is simple, the public’s thirst for a brand name item for a cheap price. The consumer demand for counterfeit goods is high and the general public does not understand what is truly behind counterfeiting and piracy.

Many of the counterfeit goods are manufactured outside the United States in countries that do not abide by the same laws as our country does. As a result of this, many of the counterfeit goods are made in factories that expose the workers to unsafe working conditions and in some instances employ child labor.

We need to educate the public about the Underground Economy and the negative impact these crimes have on our communities. The Los Angeles Crime Stoppers program has done an outstanding job to educate the public about counterfeiting and piracy. They have put up billboards and also produced numerous television segments about the issue. More educational efforts like this need to be done to stem the demand for counterfeit goods.

The criminals that are engaged in the Underground Economy are very well educated in the laws and know what exposure they face if they get caught. For instance, a subject that is selling unstamped cigarettes knows that he must get caught with thousands of cartons of unstamped cigarettes before he will face felony charges. The threshold to reach a felony standard is far too high and the perpetrators feel the risk is worth the reward. That is why law enforcement catches the same subjects time and time again being engaged in this activity.

Combatting the Problem in California

There are multiple agencies in the State of California that have done outstanding work to address the problem of counterfeiting and understand the importance of pursuing these cases. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has been aggressively prosecuting these crimes for several years and has done a great job. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and The LAPD have dedicated units that are tasked to investigate these crimes and are regularly serving search warrants, making arrests, and seizing large amounts of counterfeit goods. These agencies have done a great job with the limited resources they have been provided to address the problem.

The Riverside County District Attorney Office has a specialized prosecutor that is grant funded to prosecute these cases. This has led to an increase in cases being investigated and additional prosecutions with outstanding resolutions.

Law enforcement in the State of California has been on the forefront of investigating and prosecuting these crimes, however more needs to be done and law enforcement agencies need additional resources to properly attack the issues.

Many law enforcement agencies from around the world have looked to California law enforcement agencies for training when it comes to investigating counterfeiting and piracy matters.

The formation of the statewide taskforce to address the Underground Economy is an outstanding development. However, the taskforce must be properly funded and given all the needed resources in order for them to have the ability to dismantle the massive counterfeit operations that are operating throughout California.

The counterfeit trade is very similar to the drug trade. In order to be fully effective against the organizations, you must dismantle the entire organization. The lower level groups must be addressed along with the higher level subjects. The issue must be addressed from the ground up with a focused plan.

Agencies must coordinate their efforts to maximize their investigative and enforcement efforts.

Improvements needed

There are many additional things that need to be done to properly address the Underground Economy and Counterfeiting. The following items are suggested improvements:

  • Specialized Prosecutors
  • Legislative changes making it easier to seize illicit profits by local law enforcement
  • Mandatory fines to fund additional enforcement efforts
  • Legislative changes making the possession of over 100 cartons of cigarettes a felony
  • Increased Taskforce capabilities to operate throughout California
  • Grant funding for local agencies
  • Public Education and Awareness
  • Creation of a centralized database to track offenders

In order to properly fight the Underground Economy, we must remove the huge financial incentive that these criminals currently have. Law enforcement must have the ability and resources to investigate these cases and seize illicit profits and fruits of the crime. Convicted counterfeiters should have to pay mandatory fines that are used to fund law enforcement’s efforts to combat the Underground Economy.

Too often counterfeiters are arrested and convicted but are allowed to keep their illicit proceeds. In a recent case in Arizona, The Phoenix Police Department worked with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and seized over 2 million dollars in assets from a woman who was operating a website selling counterfeit coupons. The woman had made millions of dollars from operating a very simple website selling counterfeit coupons to unknowing consumer throughout the United States.

Many of these counterfeit operations are making millions of dollars off their illicit activity and the coupon case is just one example.

The Underground Economy is a serious threat to the State of California and must be hit head on. The economic stability of our state and country must be protected and should not be allowed to be undermined by those who chose to violate the law and steal from the citizens of California.

 

Counterfeiting — Its a BIG business.

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Trademark counterfeiting and piracy is a huge problem that is growing everyday in Los Angeles and other cities across America. The LAPD and FBI are doing an outstanding job protecting intellectual property rights and the US economy. The problem of intellectual property theft is much bigger than most people realize.

If you find someone selling these products please do not hesitate to contact us on our website at:

http://www.investigativeconsultants.com/

Counterfeiters Caught Smuggling Drugs

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Counterfeiters do not only engage in the sales of counterfeit goods, they will do whatever type of criminal activity that will make them money. We have seen time and time again where drug trafficking and counterfeiting are tied together.

The same people selling counterfeits will be the same people that will smuggle drugs.

This group of folks that were arrested smuggling drugs also have had their run ins with the law for selling counterfeit handbags and pirated CDs. The full story can be viewed by visiting our YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-PBn25j-eE&feature=share&list=UUsenSOs0fOULyfLBt5f4Dbw

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ALAMEDA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT “HOSTS” A PURSE PARTY

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department has been a driving force in pursuing trademark counterfeiting cases in Northern California. Their efforts have been outstanding over the past few years.

The case all started when an observant Investigator observed a sign on the side of a van asking people to host a replica purse party. Not such a bright idea if you are committing a crime and don’t want to be arrested.

Investigators made contact with the subject and made multiple undercover purchases from her. The subject admitted that all the items she was selling were counterfeit and she also stated that she knew it was against the law to be selling the items.

It was learned during the investigation that the subject was hosting her purse parties at high schools, country clubs, charity events, coffee shops, and wineries. It is amazing that the subject was able to sell her illicit goods in such venues, considering that the venues could also be held civilly liable for the activities conducted on their properties.

There have been multiple civil cases against swap meets, flea markets and other property owners for allowing the sale of counterfeit goods on their properties. Several brand owners have secured multimillion dollar awards. Property owners and landlords need to be very diligent to ensure that counterfeit goods are not sold on their properties.

Investigators arranged to “host” a purse party at a local hotel. The subject whole heartedly agreed and showed up for the party with a cache of counterfeit goods. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department ended the party by seizing all the counterfeit goods and cutting the “party” short.

The efforts in Alameda County have been outstanding.

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Kris Buckner, Investigative Consultants

JOINT LASD AND HSI INVESTIGATION LEADS TO FEDERAL CONVICTIONS

The  Los  Angeles  County  Sheriff’s  Department’s  CAPE  Team  worked  side  by  side  with  The  Intellectual  Property  Rights  Group  from  HSI  and  served  warrants  at  multiple  locations  in  Los  Angeles  and  Montclair.

IC  Investigators  had  identified  a  group  of  individuals  that  were  operating  a  counterfeit  ring  distributing  counterfeit  clothing  and  luxury  goods.  Investigators  had  learned  the  subjects  were  operating  a  warehouse  in  Downtown  Los  Angeles  and  were  storing  additional  goods  at  a  public  storage  facility  in  Montclair.

One  of  the  subjects  was  selling  counterfeit  goods  at  a  local  swap  meet  and  maintaining  a  low  profile,  leading  many  to  believe  that  she  was  just  a  small  time  swap  meet  vendor,  however  the  truth  was  that  she  was  part  of  a  major  organization  and  just  used  the  swap  meet  as  a  means  to  develop  additional  wholesale  customers.

Counterfeiters  are  not  always  who  they  “appear”  to  be.  Over  the  years,  we  have  seen  counterfeiters  do  a  great  job  at  masking  who  they  really  are  and  how  deeply  involved  they  really  are  in  the  counterfeit  trade.

Federal  agents  were  able  to  get  an  introduction  into  one  of  the  master  minds  of  the  organization  and  they  were  able  to  identify  the  counterfeit  network  and  where  they  had  stored  all  their  counterfeit  goods.  Federal  search  warrants  were  obtained  and  served  at  all  the  locations  involved  in  the  counterfeit  ring.

The  search  lead  to  the  seizure  of  over  a  million  dollars  in  counterfeit  goods  and  the  arrests  of  the  two  primary  subjects.  One  of  the  subjects  had  multiple  prior  state  convictions  for  trademark  counterfeiting  and  was  eventually  sentenced  to  two  years  in  federal  prison  and  he  will  likely  be  deported  after  he  serves  his  time.  The  second  subject  was  also  convicted  and  sentenced  to  a  year  in  federal  custody.

This  case  was  a  great  example  of  federal  and  state  agencies  working  together  to  take  down  a  major  organization.

Kris Buckner, Investigative Consultants

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