An American resident has been arrested for his part in a "sophisticated scheme" to import around 200 shipping containers of fake brand-name apparel from China into the US.
Su Ming Ling (50), a former resident of Queens, New York, was arrested in California as he attempted to board a flight from San Francisco to Taiwan, while items were seized by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The four-year smuggling racket, which was described as an "elaborate criminal enterprise", allegedly looked to pocket millions of dollars from the sale of knock-off Nike sneakers, UGG boots, and National Football League athletic jerseys, among other merchandise.
"Using a combination of internet savvy and old-fashioned counterfeit distribution techniques, defendant Ling perpetrated a lucrative counterfeiting scheme involving fake name-brand items," Bridget Rohde, acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement, adding: "This Office, together with our law enforcement partners, remains committed to protecting the intellectual property of US brands, on which the economic integrity of US markets depend."
According to legal documents, Ling allegedly used several aliases between May 2013 and January 2017 to register and create numerous internet domain names and email addresses with the intention that they resembled the internet domain names of real US businesses.
The defendant then allegedly used the fraudulently obtained email addresses to pose as a representative of the real businesses, and hired US Customs and Border Protection-licensed customs brokers to file customs entry forms on behalf of the businesses whose identities he had stolen. He allegedly provided the brokers with falsified shipping documents that misrepresented the contents of the shipping containers.
Then working with co-conspirators, Ling allegedly arranged for the shipping containers of counterfeit goods to be distributed to warehouses and storage facilities in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, and in New Jersey.
The scam unravelled after shipping containers that purported to contain brand-name merchandise were inspected by HSI and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The agencies established that the Nike sneakers, UGG boots, National Football League athletic jerseys and True Religion jeans inside the containers were fake.
The following investigation involved searching Ling's cellular phones in December 2015, where HSI agents found photographs and notes of names and email addresses the defendant kept in an apparent effort to keep track of his fraudulent identities. The agents also found messages between Ling and his co-conspirators with delivery instructions and photographs of delivery orders for the shipping containers that had been inspected.
"US Customs and Border Protection enforcement actions provided a critical link in an ongoing investigation that resulted in the takedown of an elaborate criminal enterprise," Leon Hayward, acting director, New York field office, CBP, said in a statement. "It is through our interagency partnerships, and collaborative approaches that law enforcement successfully combats modern criminal organisations."
Debra Parker, acting special-agent-in-charge, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, HSI Newark division, added: "HSI and our local, state and federal law enforcement partners are committed to dismantling transnational counterfeiting that significantly impacts local economies. These arrests and seizure embody our commitment to disrupting the importation and sale of counterfeit goods."
If convicted, Ling faces a statutory maximum of 20 years' imprisonment for smuggling, and 10 years' imprisonment for conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods.