By Ed Brock
In a sweep inspired partly by homeland security concerns, the Clayton County Drug Task Force has seized more than $300,000 in counterfeit merchandise.
The task force also arrested 12 persons Saturday and Monday, said Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle whose department oversees the task force, and more arrests are expected.
"We have been working for about three months on the investigation," Tuggle said.
In cooperation with fraud investigators from the garment and music industry the task force raided two Clayton County flea markets on Saturday and on Monday they raided kiosks at Southlake Mall and various other businesses. They confiscated fake Gucci purses and hats, cheaply made team logo baseball caps, CDs, DVDs and Burberry suitcases.
"And that company doesn't even make luggage," said Special Agent Clarence Cox, head of the task force.
The investigation was inspired by information on where some of the money from the counterfeit goods market goes, Tuggle said.
"The FBI has told us that, just like drug money can go back to terrorist organizations, money from these kinds of operations can go back to terrorists as well," Tuggle said.
Investigators do not specifically know if the profits from the bogus goods seized in this week's raid would have gone to terrorists, Tuggle said.
As the investigation continues the task force hopes to get information on where the merchants arrested so far got their goods.
The task force also seized $20,000 in cash. The names of the people charged in the raids had not yet been released. Some of the 12 were charged with misdemeanors and released on a citation while others were charged with felonies and taken into custody.
Tuggle urged consumers to educate themselves on the brand name item they are buying so they can take the proper precautions.
That can be difficult, said Jim Martin, owner of the 60-year-old Sweetie Flea Market on U.S. Highway 19/41 in Hampton.
"You have to be pretty good, the way they do it now, to tell the real from the unreal," said Martin, but he added that sometimes the frauds are easy to spot. "Sometimes you'll find a movie that's still playing in the theater."
Martin said his employees and he try their best to monitor the vendors at the market.
"Of course there's only a couple of us and around 180 of them," Martin said.
The 300 vendors at Peachtree Peddlers Flea Market in McDonough have to sign an agreement that they will not sell counterfeit goods, General Manager Peggy Alexander said.
"We can't be everywhere at once, but we try to be," Alexander said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that a $500 Louis Vuitton purse isn't going to sell for $50."
As a member of the National Flea Market Association, Alexander said, she has met with counterfeit investigators on the subject and most members of the association take special care to prohibit the illegal trade.
"A lot of flea markets don't care. They aren't members of the association," Alexander said.
Cox said that the criminal case against the vendors of the counterfeit goods isn't the only penalty they face. Usually the various companies that have been affected by the trademark infringement file civil suits against the violators to recover their losses.