During the days leading up to this year’s Super Bowl on Feb. 3, you can count on three things – a litany of stories on the teams’ two coaches who just happen to be brothers, buzz about TV commercials that will cost
$4 million and the feds cracking down on street vendors hawking phony, unlicensed NFL jerseys, shirts and hats.
Such was the case Friday when federal agents and Las Vegas police displayed counterfeit sports gear ranging from Chicago Bears and New York Jets jerseys to bags bearing the logos of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers.
In all, about 600 fake items with a retail value of $15,000 were confiscated three days earlier by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations and Las Vegas police officials. Agents said Mustafa Ahmadi, 31, and Sonia Qudrat, 29, used a screen press at a Fremont Street Experience kiosk in downtown Las Vegas to apply professional sports teams logos downloaded off the Internet to shirts, jerseys, hats and scarves.
The two were arrested on charges of selling counterfeit goods and face a Class D felony, punishable by up to one to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Sports retailers who sell legitimate licensed NFL and other sports gear celebrated.
“I was jumping for joy. This is awesome,” said Bruce Mianecki, owner of Uniform Sports, a retail store in the Las Vegas Premium Outlets South.
Mianecki said he reported the kiosk vendors to his Nike representatives in hopes authorities would be alerted. Nike is the NFL supplier of licensed jerseys. Mianecki said he also has contacted Craigslist about people selling phony, unlicensed NFL gear on that website.
“I have to compete with these guys. They undercut me. They sell a jersey for $40 or $60, and my top jersey goes for $250. And they’re not putting any money into the tax base,” Mianecki said.
Federal authorities are cracking down on phony sports logo gear in 30 other cities as part of its national Operation Red Zone program.
The NFL, which hires local companies to identify vendors pitching unlicensed merchandise in dozens of markets nationwide, lauded Friday’s news.
“We appreciate the effort from federal and local authorities in taking these counterfeit items off the streets,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “These counterfeiters aren’t graphic artists – they’re con artists. Our fans deserve the best from the NFL, and these counterfeiters dupe them into buying inferior merchandise and also harm local retailers.”
Vendors selling phony gear hurts the city’s tourism economy because unsuspecting tourists buy inferior, unlicensed merchandise and don’t return because of the negative experience, said Las Vegas police Detective Robert Sigal, who worked on the case.
“They won’t come back to the city,” Sigal said. “We want them to leave with good memories.”
Authorities said the arrested vendors made thousands of dollars from the sports knockoffs for the past few months. A month ago, federal agents also seized phony NFL jerseys that were sent from China and bound for a Henderson man.
Michael Harris, assistant special agent in charge, said the counterfeit sports gear is just a slice of a bigger illegal movement of phony merchandise that ranges from fake car parts and contact lenses to medicine.
U.S. retailers lose $200 billion to
$250 billion annually in sales because of phony merchandise, Harris said.
Steven Sampilo, a Homeland Security special agent involved in the sports gear crackdown, said there is another dubious element: “A lot of counterfeiting supports terrorism.”
Contact reporter Alan Snel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273.