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ABC7 Exclusive: 'Denim party' bust

June 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The party is over for two Glendora moms who are now accused of trafficking in black market denim. Piles of purses, hundreds of jeans, jewelry and sunglasses, all fake, were captured by a hidden camera, set up by investigators.

Officials set up the party to take down an illegal operation that was run by two moms in Glendora. And Eyewitness News got the exclusive story.

The party is officially over for Katie Luera and Shelly Young, who are both now accused of trafficking in black market denim.

"I don't think you guys realize how much stuff we've got," said Luera on the tape.

"We could fill six to seven bedrooms, at least," said Young on the tape.

In all the suspects had nearly $300,000 worth of counterfeit goods.

Luera and Young thought that it was a birthday party, but the guests were all undercover private investigators and members of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Sgt. Janice Munson and Sgt. Nancy McGawley are part of a special team at the L.A. County Sheriff's Department that fights the trafficking of counterfeit goods.

They both went undercover to attend the party. Part of the job requirement on this particular day was to act the part of a purse-shopping, label-loving "fashionista."

"I am not a purse person and I do not carry a purse. I usually have a backpack. But I went through and I picked up a couple dozen purses in here," said Sgt. McGawley.

"You try them on and they even encouraged us to go into the bathroom and use the full-length mirror to see how they would look, as if we were wearing them," said Sgt. Munson.

The prices were too good to be true.

"Any Gucci, Prada or Chanel wallet was $20 each, it didn't matter," said Sgt. Munson.

Investigators say that the women were turning a good profit. They were selling a number of the items at house parties, carnivals and even church fairs.

"I expect they were making a good deal of money off of this. They seem to have had no reservations about coming here. They seemed like they were pros at it," said Dep. Chris Gentner.

The two suspects were taken by surprise at the end of the party. Uniformed deputies received their signal and moved in to make the arrests.

The women were handcuffed and hauled away. They both are now facing serious charges.

Counterfeit goods are bought and sold every day in Southern California. Many people do not see the harm and say that it does not feel like stealing.

But experts argue that we all get hurt anytime someone buys a fake Fendi or a discount Dooney & Bourke.

"Globally the problem is estimated to be more than $500 billion a year," said Kris Buckner.

Buckner is a former deputy with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. He is now working as a private investigator for dozens of upscale, brand-name companies like True Religion brand jeans.

Counterfeit goods and piracy cost L.A. County companies that make authentic goods at least $5 billion a year.

It's estimated the L.A. County economy has lost 106,000 direct and indirect jobs to the problem.

"This is all made in L.A. so when they start importing the counterfeits from China, you're taking jobs from your fellow citizens," said Deborah Greaves, an attorney for True Religion.

True Religion works aggressively to get counterfeit goods off the streets.

"We find typographical errors on the hang tags sometimes. You can see where they have misspelled words," said Greaves.

Loose and unfinished seams, poor-quality stitching, and rivets without the trademark horseshoe, these are all telltale signs your jeans are not genuine.

And there's an even darker side to this thriving black market.

"Overseas child labor is involved with the manufacturing of counterfeit goods. The funds raised go to organized crime. There are heavy ties between the sale of counterfeit merchandise and what we believe to be Hezbollah in Los Angeles," said Buckner.

In fact, there's strong evidence the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was funded in part by the sale of counterfeit goods. A frightening reality to keep in mind the next time you're tempted by those "it" jeans.

 

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