By Guy Leonard, County Times
HOLLYWOOD, Md. (June 26, 2008)—Local law enforcement has suspected merchants of dealing in counterfeit goods at the Charlotte Hall Farmers Market and a clothing store in Lexington Park, so for the past two months they have sent in undercover officers to make controlled buys of the items, said the countys top detective, in an effort to prove their case.
Lt. Rick Burris, commander of the St. Marys County Bureau of Criminal Investigations, said the raids at the two county locations turned up significant quantities of counterfeit items ranging from shirts, jeans and hats to music, movies and handbags.
We started getting quite a few citizen complaints about counterfeit items being sold there, Burris said of the Charlotte Hall Farmers Market. We conducted an operation there several years ago.
The operation involved 40 law enforcement officers, Burris said, including BCI detectives, state troopers, patrol officers, law enforcement intelligence operatives, and agents from the motion picture, clothing and recording industries.
Some items were obvious [counterfeits], Burris said. Others werent so obvious, so we had experts from the industries go in and confirm whether or not they were counterfeit.
The suspected counterfeit items were often sold at a deep discount, Burris said, some at half price.
Ben Burroughs, owner of the farmers market, said he does not inspect merchandise and that all a vendor needs is a traders license and sales tax license to sell goods there.
If I did [inspect merchandise] I would have the sense to know whether it was right or wrong, Burroughs said. I dont condone anything illegal done at the market, if we find anyone doing wrong we give them notice to leave and its a short notice.
Burroughs said he had received complaints about counterfeit items and encouraged customers to report their suspicions to the sheriffs office immediately.
He said there were some arrests after customers complained about six months ago.
Im going to tell them all [vendors], See what happened? They got locked up, Burroughs said as a warning to anyone considering selling fake name brand merchandise.
The items seized came from all over the country, Burris said, sometimes from foreign sources.
Burris added that the undercover officers had been gathering evidence against the 20 vendors who were arrested during the operation, which took place from June 20 to June 21, and he alleged that all knowingly sold the suspected counterfeit merchandise.
The 20 suspects, some of whom came from as far as Brooklyn and Bronx in New York to sell merchandise, were charged with felony counterfeit producing and selling the items.
Police reports state some of the charges range up to 15 years incarceration for suspects if convicted.
About $693,000 worth of suspected counterfeit items were seized, Burris said, along with about $3,800 in cash.
Only one suspect arrested, Maurice X. Queen, of Lexington Park, the owner of the Keep It Real Store on Great Mills Road, was from St. Marys County.
Other suspects included residents of Waldorf, Clinton, Fort Washington, Laurel, Eldersburg, Bowie, D.C., Alexandria and Burke, Va.
A place like the farmers market allowed them to set up for a weekend and go back where they came from, Burris said. It wasnt a store front operation so it wasnt as easy to investigate.
Law enforcement officers seized enough material to prosecute the suspects, Burris said, and the rest was given to the industry agents for storage; rental trucks had to be used to confiscate all the merchandise.
Burris said the financial impact of counterfeit sales ranged in the millions of dollars, the Recording Industry Association of America, he said, claimed that the industry loses $300 million a year because of it.
We hope this will slow down sales of counterfeit merchandise, if not well be back, Burris said.