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Counterfeit goods fund violent gang activity

June 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
LAPD investigations show that gangs are deep into the counterfeit goods business, enabling gang members to fund illegal activities.It takes low risk but yields high reward.

"They're using every single penny of that to fund their criminal activity," explained an undercover police officer.

For Los Angeles street gangs, counterfeit goods make for big business.

"They're making more money selling pirated CDs and DVDs than they would selling narcotics," said LAPD Senior Lead Officer Randy McCain. "They make a lot of money and they make the money faster."

Investigators say it's important for people to understand that buying those cheap counterfeit purses, sunglasses or shoes is not a victimless crime.

"We've found it tied to murder, extortion, human trafficking, insurance fraud," listed Kris Buckner, a former L.A. County Sheriff's deputy. Buckner now trains law enforcement personnel on how to spot and investigate counterfeit goods.

"In the past couple of years, we've seen a huge surge in gang members, 18th Street, MS-13, 42nd Street Little Gangsters," said Buckner.

Why? It's all about economics.

"They're now trying to run their organizations like Fortune 500 companies. They need to raise revenue, but if they're out there shooting each other, doing drug sales, their potential to make higher revenues is actually lower," explained Buckner.

So every time you buy a fake Fendi or a knock-off Chanel, you could be putting cash in the pockets of some of L.A.'s most dangerous gangs, including the Mexican Mafia.

"What does the Mexican Mafia do with that money? Smuggles drugs into the prison system, kills people, all sorts of things," said Buckner.

Investigators say cutting off demand from shoppers will cut down on crime as a whole.

"They come here and sell DVDs for super cheap, make a lot of money to fund buying guns that could either take someone off the street or a fellow officer," explained LAPD Officer Matt Shafer.

An undercover LAPD officer who could not reveal his identity said that gang members also use the money from counterfeit goods to buy cars.

"Escalades, Lexus and Mercedes," lists the officer.

In one case, he testified against two Compton gangsters caught selling counterfeit Nike shoes.

"They are Compton Crips with extensive rap sheets, weapons charges, murder, attempted murder," described the undercover officer.

Also, it's not just a matter of safety. A 2005 study found that the sale of counterfeit goods cost L.A. County alone $483 million in lost tax revenue and 106,000 jobs. That's just for one year.

And it's not just bags and shoes.

"Airplane parts, brake pads, medicine, dog food," lists Buckner.

Shafer describes it as a "turf war" among rival gang members.

"One gang member or crew will be territorial over their turf, and if another comes over, fights ensue," Shafer said.

Home video seized from a Carnales gang member shows a gang initiation, but earlier on the tape, footage shows the gang members staking out a corner of a parking lot to sell their counterfeit DVDs.

"So basically what they're doing is, they're up here selling their DVDs and smoking marijuana and just acting like the little fools they are," said McCain.

In another incident, the LAPD set up a sting where an undercover officer rolled up to a gang-infested neighborhood with a car full of counterfeit cigarettes. The officer left the car door open with the music blaring. In less than a minute, a man jumped into the car and attempted to steal it. Unfortunately for him, the engine was cut off by police. One more gang member trying to profit off counterfeit goods was taken off the streets.

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