21 Arrested in Nation’s Largest Counterfeit Watch Seizure
MIAMI (AP) _ Federal agents have arrested 21 people and confiscated 25,000 watches in what law enforcement officials Friday called the largest seizure of counterfeit watches in the nation.
The U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Customs Service participated in the three-month investigation dubbed Operation Stopwatch.
″We hope with this operation we have sent a message that we intend to enforce the law, and we hope ... we will make a significant dent″ in counterfeit sales, said U.S. Attorney Leon B. Kellner.
The confiscation dwarfed previous seizures in which arrests were made, Kellner said, adding that a check with other jurisdictions showed the next largest case involved only about 300 counterfeit watches.
Kellner said 17 individuals and five companies named in eight federal indictments unsealed Friday operated nationwide and imported unstamped watches from overseas, chiefly Hong Kong.
Another four people were arrested as those named in the Wednesday indictments were arrested, said Kellner. He was unable to explain the additional arrests.
Among the counterfeited name brands were Cartier, Rolex, Gucci, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, Concord, Corum, Louis Vuitton, Patek Philippe and Swatch.
Sales of the phony watches amount to ″tens of millions of dollars annually,″ said Sol Flick, chairman of the American Watch Association Anticounterfeiting Task Force, who attended the news conference.
Don Gallier, chief executive officer of Swatch Watch USA Inc., estimated 10,000 counterfeit Swatch timepieces are imported each day, while his company sold about 11,000 legitimate watches daily in 1984.
Rolex Watch USA Inc. Executive Vice President Rene M. Girod played down the effect the sale of $150 imitations would have on real Rolex watches valued from $1,000 to $10,000.
But he said cheap imitations are ″damaging to the prestige of many fine brands.″
Federal law enforcement officials said Operation Stopwatch was aimed at wholesale dealers rather than small-time retailers.
″We were not going after the guy in the trenchcoat with an armful of watches,″ said Ronald J. Szego, special agent in charge for the U.S. Secret Service.
Szego said undercover agents made numerous bulk purchases over three months from those charged.
Most of the watches probably were imported legally, with the phony names imprinted in the United States, said Szego. But he said no such stamping operations were uncovered in the investigation.
The first tips in the case came from members of the watch industry, who notified federal authorities of suspect operations.
The indictments by a federal grand jury were sealed until Friday to allow the arrest of the suspects, according to a statement issued by Kellner.
The suspects were all south Florida residents except for Robert Mann, 58, of Las Vegas, Nev., authorities said.
Kellner said all were expected to be released on bonds of $25,000 to $50,000, except one person whom he did not identify.
The five companies named in the indictments were Dauber International Inc., Florida Imports, Tropical Watch Inc., Laufer Enterprises Inc. and Japan Distributing Inc.
If convicted under the Trademark Counterfeiting Act, individuals could face a maximum of five years in prison and fines of $250,000 each, while the corporations could be fined $1 million each.