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Cohiba Maker Sues Over Alleged Counterfeit

May 12, 2006

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ The maker of Cohiba brand cigars has filed a federal counterfeiting and trademark infringement lawsuit against a Las Vegas business and several distributors it claims have been copying its name on cigars.

General Cigar Co. claims individuals and companies including Cohiba Caribbean’s Finest Inc. of Nevada and R&E Cigars of Spring Hill, Tenn., have been marketing cigars deliberately aimed at tapping Cohiba’s place in the premium cigar market. Cohiba cigars sold by General Cigar are made in the Dominican Republic. An entirely separate Cohiba brand is produced in Cuba.

While General Cigar displays the word Cohiba on cigar bands and boxes in bold black uppercase letters, the lawsuit accuses the defendants of using the same name followed by smaller italicized words ``Caribbean’s Finest.″

Philip Restifo, owner of Cohiba Caribbean’s Finest and Data Commodities Inc. of Las Vegas, declined immediate comment Thursday.

Restifo is named in the complaint, but not as a defendant in the lawsuit because he is protected as a debtor after filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection March 31. Others named in the suit include a Restifo employee in Las Vegas and a client in South Carolina.

Efforts to reach R&E Cigars and its owner, identified in the lawsuit as Ramsay Elias Perez, were not immediately successful.

Gerry Roerty, lawyer for General Cigar based in New York and Richmond, Va., called Restifo’s businesses the most aggressive among several Cohiba counterfeiters around the nation.

The 18-page civil complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas alleges trademark infringement, cybersquatting and deceptive trade practices, including the use of the name Cohiba on rum and cigar-related products and on the Internet.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering the companies to stop using the Cohiba name, plus $1 million in statutory and an unspecified amount in compensatory damages.

A hearing was scheduled June 1 before U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval.

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