Federal agencies seize more than $21.6 million in fake NFL merchandise during 'Operation Team Player'

New York, New York - Federal officials teamed with the National Football League (NFL) Thursday to announce the record-breaking results of a nationwide law enforcement effort aimed at combatting counterfeit sports merchandise.

Speaking at a NFL news conference, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director John Sandweg, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Director of Field Operations (DFO) Robert Perez, and NFL Senior Vice President and Chief Litigation Officer Anastasia Danias discussed the results of the initiative dubbed "Operation Team Player."

Team Player began in June and targeted international shipments of counterfeit merchandise as it entered the United States. Authorities identified warehouses, stores, flea markets, online vendors and street vendors selling counterfeit game-related sportswear and tickets throughout the country.

Fake jerseys, ball caps, t-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs are among the counterfeit merchandise and clothing confiscated by teams of special agents and officers from ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), CBP, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and state and local police departments around the country – all in partnership with the NFL and other major sports leagues.

"Our agents are committed to combatting the criminal enterprises selling counterfeit products which undermine our economy, and take jobs away from Americans," said Sandweg. "No good comes from counterfeiting American products regardless of whether they are jerseys, airbags or pharmaceuticals."

Special agents from HSI and officers with CBP worked with sports leagues and law enforcement agencies throughout the nation to identify illegal shipments imported into the U.S., as well as stores and vendors selling counterfeit trademarked items. With three days left before Super Bowl XLVIII, these teams have already seized more than 202,000 items of phony sports memorabilia along with other counterfeit items worth more than $21.6 million. Law enforcement officers have made 50 arrests in relation to Operation Team Player so far, three at the federal level and 47 at the state and local level. Super Bowl XLVIII efforts will continue through Feb. 7.

"The NFL is proud to once again partner with the [National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center] in combating the illegal sale of counterfeit merchandise and tickets," said Danias "Together, we are working hard to prevent fans from being scammed by criminals seeking to profit from the public's passion for the NFL, their home teams and the Super Bowl."

"The risks of counterfeit products go beyond damaging the reputation of a name on a label; the U.S. economy and American jobs are at risk with the purchase of seemingly harmless items," said CBP Acting Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski. "Ultimately, the cost of purchasing a fake product is much greater than the perceived savings."

For the first time, Mexico's Servicio de Administracion Tributaria (SAT) is also conducting operations related to sports merchandise seizures during Super Bowl week. Working with the IPR Center, SAT is conducting "Operation Fumble" in some of the largest cities of Mexico. SAT officials from different regional offices are targeting warehouses, stores and flea markets in order to identify counterfeit sports merchandise.

Understanding the economic impact of intellectual property theft, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also spreading the word about the dangers that counterfeit products pose to the economy.

"Unsuspecting consumers are often blindsided when they get inferior, counterfeit products and Americans see real loss of jobs," said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber's Global Intellectual Property Center. "Counterfeit goods cost the global economy an estimated $250 billion each year. More than 1.2 million jobs in New Jersey, 900,000 jobs in Colorado and 1.2 million in the state of Washington depend on IP intensive industries meaning counterfeits have a direct impact on the economy in the home states of both teams and the host of the Super Bowl."

Website seizures

Furthering HSI's efforts to combat the international counterfeiting supply chain online, special agents from HSI offices in Charleston, S.C.; Denver, Colo.; and New Orleans seized a total of 163 websites identified to be selling counterfeit merchandise.

The website seizures during Operation Team Player are the next iteration of Operation In Our Sites, a long-term law enforcement initiative led by the IPR Center which targets counterfeiting and piracy on the Internet. The 163 websites have been seized by law enforcement, and are now in the custody of the federal government. Visitors to these websites will find a seizure banner that notifies them that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities and educates them that willful copyright infringement is a federal crime. Since the launch of Operation In Our Sites in June 2010, the IPR Center has seized a total of 2,713 domain names.

In addition to the domain names seized by law enforcement, the NFL also executed civil seizure orders in 2013 for more than 5,250 websites.

Operation Team Player was spearheaded by the IPR Center in coordination with the Department of Justice's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and three U.S. Attorneys' Offices, including the District of South Carolina, District of Colorado and the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety and the U.S. economy.

To report IP theft or to learn more about the IPR Center, visit www.IPRCenter.gov.

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