Purse Parties Funding Organized Crime?
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If you receive an invitation to a purse party, you might want to think twice about accepting.They're popular, but some are illegal, federal agents said.Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are cracking down on the distribution and sale of counterfeit handbags, which are knock-offs designed to look like expensive bags.
ICE investigator William Wallrapp said counterfeit purses are big business, and they may be funding even bigger criminal activity.
Most of the purses look like handbags that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The fakes cost a fraction of the price of the real bags, reported television station KETV in Omaha.A KETV hidden camera was rolling at a designer handbag party in west Omaha. Replicas of favorite luxury brands, including Coach, Prada and Chanel, were offered for sale.
Wallrapp said some saleswomen are making six figures by selling them."It's a lucrative trade," Wallrapp said.The purse parties are now being watched by federal investigators."If we find out about these crimes, we're going to investigate them and do our best to see that they're prosecuted," Wallrapp said.ICE recently arrested two women in Scottsbluff, Neb., on suspicion of selling the counterfeit goods.
Kelli Larson and Jodene Burkhart were forced to forfeit more than 900 purses, wallets and sunglasses. An indictment said that the women made more than $200,000 selling the knockoffs and now face a $2 million fine and several years in prison.Agents also seized more than 1,200 fakes from a woman in Lincoln, Neb."She was going to make tens of thousands on those, probably," Wallrapp said.Wallrapp said that people who buy and sell the knockoffs don't fully understand the business behind them.
He said many times organized crime rings from across the globe make the fakes."The majority of these items are manufactured overseas, and they're imported or smuggled into the U.S.," he said.The money generated by selling shoes, sunglasses and purses often funds more serious criminal activity, the agent said."People involved in the narcotics trade or weapons trade or money laundering are in those trades to make money.
They get involved in counterfeiting for the same reason," Wallrapp said.The counterfeit business also takes billions away from legitimate companies. Industry and trade associations estimate that counterfeiting and piracy cost the U.S. economy up to $250 billion a year and a total of 750,000 jobs.
About 5 percent of all merchandise sold worldwide is counterfeit, industry estimates show."That's a big impact on our economy and our citizens," Wallrapp said. "It's not something you should be involved in."Knockoff purses can range in price from $15 to $95.In an effort to crack down harder on counterfeiting, Wallrapp said that the government just opened a center in Virginia where several agencies work together under the same roof to solve the crimes.
[Via - Local6.Com]