Designer Watch and Sunglasses Counterfeiter Taken Down by TRaCE

Los Angeles – An investigation by the state’s Tax Recovery and Criminal Enforcement (TRaCE) Task Force led to the arrest of Armando Robledo, 34, of Los Angeles, on five felony counts of counterfeiting. The Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Piracy Unit arrested Robledo on November 21, 2014. Robledo was arrested and booked into the Los Angeles County Jail, where he posted $50,000 bail. He is ordered to appear in Sacramento County Court this month, with Deputy Attorney General and TRaCE prosecutor Peter Williams leading the prosecution.

In April, Investigative Consultants (IC), a private investigation company specializing in intellectual property investigations and enforcement, contacted TRaCE to initiate a criminal investigation of Robledo. He is suspected of retailing high-end counterfeit goods and was selling thousands of watches with brand names such as Rolex,Breitling, and Chanel. TRaCE and IC together purchased several of these watches, with a total retail value of more than $100,000, while undercover in Sacramento. They also purchased counterfeit Ray Ban, Luis Vuitton, and Chanel sunglasses from Robledo during the course of several months.

On October 7, 2014, TRaCE and the LAPD served a search warrant on Robledo’s business and nearby storage locker in the Santee Alley area of Los Angeles. The locker contained an estimated $300,000 worth of counterfeit Gucci, Dior, Prada, and other high-end brand sunglasses which were confiscated as evidence – one of the largest seizures of its kind in California in the last few years.

Consumers should take care to avoid counterfeit merchandise. It is often inferior, and its purchase supports those who steal designers’ ideas and take jobs from workers who manufacture legitimate products.

“Not only does the underground economy cost all taxpayers roughly $8.5 billion every year in funds for public services, but also thousands of jobs which could further help our state’s economy,” said Chairman Jerome E. Horton. “Consumers can help TRaCE combat the underground economy – Report it, Don’t ignore it!”

“Local law enforcement and public involvement are vital in our fight against the underground economy,” said Board of Equalization Member George Runner. “We welcome all leads and tips, as they are essential to our efforts to protect law-abiding business owners and taxpayers.”

To download a form to report criminal activities such as tax evasion and counterfeiting, visit http://www.boe.ca.gov/trace. The TRaCE Task Force reviews all leads reported for full investigation, or as applicable, referral to the appropriate state, local, or federal law enforcement agency to address.

The Tax Recovery and Criminal Enforcement Task Force (TRaCE) is comprised of public officials from the Department of Justice, Board of Equalization, Franchise Tax Board, Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Employment Development Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

The mission of the TRaCE Task Force is to combat organized elements of the underground economy engaged in the manufacture, importation, distribution, and sale of pirated intellectual property, and other economic crimes resulting in the evasion of business, payroll and/or income taxes.

For more information about TRaCE or to report a crime, visit http://www.boe.ca.gov/trace.

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GANG MEMBER ARRESTED AGAIN!!

A  documented  member  of  the  Grape  Street  Crips  has  been  arrested  again  for  the sales  of  pirated  music  CDs.  Some  people  just  never  learn.  It  seems  the  lure  of  easy  money  is  just  too  hard  to  resist.

For 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) estimated the comprehensive results of counterfeit and pirated goods seized @ $1.74 Billion.(www.ice.gov)

In  2013,  we  saw  the  number  of  gang  members  involved  in  counterfeiting  and  piracy  grow  and  there  appears  to  be  no  end  in  sight  as  long  as  there  is  a  strong  demand  for  counterfeit  goods. Counterfeiting and piracy are not victimless crimes and do deserve to be prosecuted. The brand name companies are not the only victims in this illegal world. We all lose tax revenue and legitimate businesses lose sales to these criminals.

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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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