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Raid targets counterfeit sales at discount mall

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Police have arrested eight merchants and confiscated some $1.2 million in counterfeit merchandise in a raid at the Tara Discount Mall on Upper Riverdale Road.

The seized merchandise included 6,630 CDs, 1,291 DVDs, 1,404 pairs of shoes, 285 pairs of jeans and pants, 253 handbags, 204 shirts, 57 hats, 11 shorts, five pairs of sunglasses, four jackets, and two belts.

Besides the eight felony arrests, search warrants were issued for owners of a half-dozen other stores.

The prime targets of the raid were pirated DVDs and CDs sold in several store booths.

Months before the raid, representatives from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), made several dummy purchases, identifying specific booths which sold pirated media, according to the raid's commanding officer, Tim Owens.

"People from the movie industry have already gone in there and made buys," said Owens. Prior to the raid, Owens said police had "a list of some of the booths that are selling the illegal materials."

Owens said as the act of "burning" CDs and DVDs has become commonplace, many people do not consider making or purchasing counterfeit media to be a crime. He said illegitimate purchases, however, ultimately hurt the consumer by driving up the cost of movie tickets, music, and other media.

"People don't think that the $3 you save is going to hurt the industry very much, but in the long run it hurts them more than if they made a legitimate purchase," said Owens.

According to the MPAA and RIAA, counterfeiting costs the motion picture and recording industry $6.1 billion a year and $300 million a year, respectively.

Thursday, around 4 p.m., over 50 plain-clothes and uniformed Clayton County Police officers swarmed into the mall. Confused shoppers watched as the police department's Mobile Precinct and Command Center pulled up to the flea market mall, blocking the front entrance. Police officers -- some wearing ski masks -- secured a perimeter around the mall, letting no one enter the building for the remainder of the evening.

Shoppers inside the mall during the raid had their identification checked before being allowed to leave.

A few store owners selling illegal merchandise abandoned their stores upon the start of the raid. Other store owners and employees were arrested as they tried to exit the mall by blending in with other shoppers.

"This is part of an ongoing effort to eliminate those business that don't want to operate legally," said Clayton County Police chief Jeff Turner. "We have nothing against legal business owners. We just want to make sure they operate legally and if they don't want to, they can go somewhere else."

This raid was the second time in eight months Tara Discount Mall had been targeted for counterfeiting.

Billy Joe, a Riverdale barber whose Thursday appointments were cut short because of the raid, felt both operations were heavy-handed.

"I don't understand why they have to come here in such a forceful way," said Joe. "It's messing up business for all of the legal businesses here. If they know that there are bootlegs here, there has to be a less conspicuous way to do this.

"They could come in here a lot more quietly," Joe continued. "This makes all of us look like criminals."

Cedric Shepherd, a gospel stage playwright from Atlanta, was getting ready to enter the mall with his family at the time of the raid. He believed the show of force was warranted.

"If they're doing illegal things and selling false merchandise, then it needs to happen," said Shepherd. "My daughter works in gospel theater and we see people selling bootlegs. It takes a lot of work to put those together ... the artist that should reap the benefits doesn't."

Turner said the large number of officers were needed to successfully complete the operation.

"It's a big shop and there's a lot of square footage to cover," said Turner. "Just as we anticipated, some shop owners fled." He said subsequent investigations would be conducted to find store owners with illegal property in their booths, who were not present during the raid.