South Los Angeles man busted for selling dangerous counterfeit airbags

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Navigating Southern California traffic is tough enough. You shouldn't have to worry about any hidden dangers lurking in your car, but that's exactly what can happen if you end up with a counterfeit airbag.

Shrapnel, shards of metal, plastic and explosive could hit you, detonating with the force of a bomb right in your face. "At the end of the day, these are all explosives," said LAPD Det. Rick Ishitani.

Ishitani, who is with LAPD's anti-piracy unit, showed Eyewitness News video of seized counterfeit airbags from a bust in South Los Angeles.

Ishitani said all the airbags were made in China, and all are unsafe. "Anything to make money. These people don't care if it kills you. It's all about the money," said Ishitani.

Undercover investigators from the task force made three "buys" from a man named Julio Serrano-Valdez, who was operating out of his backyard as a makeshift body shop.

"He absolutely knew it was counterfeit. He just blatantly admitted that he gets all the parts and pieces from China and he puts it together," said Ishitani.

On the day of the bust, a delivery showed up with more phony airbags from China, as LAPD officers execute their search warrant.

LAX and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the first line of defense in stopping the flow of knock-offs. Overall, counterfeits fuel a $600 billion a year industry. Experts say it is even more profitable than narcotics.

"These people that profit from the sales of counterfeit goods, it goes to the dark side -- I'm talking about street gangs, organized crime, terrorist groups," Ishitani said." The profits go to fund other criminal activities.

And if you're still tempted to buy a knock-off airbag because it's cheaper, Ishitani says, consider this: Most of the counterfeit bags, if they deploy at all, could also fling emblems and sharp pieces of metal like a projectile directly into your face.

While Valdez was selling phony airbags online for $100 or less, a genuine airbag can cost at least $1,000. In all, 300 counterfeit airbags and parts were seized from Valdez.

Since shoddily assembled bags are literally tiny bombs, the LAPD bomb squad got called to the scene of the bust to destroy them because they were too dangerous to transport.

Valdez pleaded guilty to one felony count of selling counterfeits, but received no jail time. He is on probation and will do 400 hours of Caltrans work, according to authorities.
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