FEDERAL AGENTS RAID SAN FRANCISCO ANTIQUE STORES
By Brigid Gaffikin, Bay City News
January 25, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - In a second round of
investigations into the same businesses that were under scrutiny
less than a month ago, federal agents today raided five antique
and furniture retailers in Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf
seeking evidence of illegally imported and counterfeit designer
goods, according to federal authorities.
One person was arrested for being in the United
States illegally, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
investigator Charles DeMore.
Federal agents searched Lloyd's Fine Art and Jewelry
at 229 Jefferson St.; King's Fine Art and Antiques at 51 Jefferson
St.; King's Fine Art and Antiques Showroom on Powell Street; Gioia
Fine Art at 238 Stockton St.; Buckingham Palace Fine Art at 441
Sutter St.; and a warehouse at bays 45, 49 and 53 of Pier 27,
according to an affidavit from the search.
DeMore said he suspects the businesses are linked.
They have been in operation for "upwards of 15 years,"
He said it is not yet clear how many of the purported
designer brand goods at the stores are genuine.
Although investigators have not yet established
the retail value of the counterfeit items in each store, which
include furniture and smaller items like chess sets, porcelain
eggs and pillboxes, evidence suggests some of the goods seized
were being sold at heavily inflated prices.
An ICE spokeswoman said investigators are still
combing through each of the stores. "We probably will be
into these businesses until well into the evening," Virginia
Today's raids were sparked by related investigations
less than three weeks ago.
On Jan. 5, federal agents searched the same stores
raided today, as well as six others, because of suspected financial,
immigration and endangered species violations.
Those raids resulted in 28 arrests for immigration
violations, DeMore said.
Evidence uncovered during the earlier investigations
led agents to suspect that the stores may be selling illegal,
Federal agents forwarded photographs they had taken
of merchandise being sold as Versace to a Versace attorney in
New York, DeMore said.
Paperwork found by agents in the Jan. 5 raid suggested
that some of the stores were placing orders for counterfeit goods
with manufacturers in China.
An invoice addressed to King's Fine Arts and Antiques
from Henan Zhenping Arts and Crafts Group Corp. in China included
a headline "Moshe's Order of Versace furniture" and
detailed some 171 pieces of furniture at a total cost of $36,270.20.
Versace "agreed to send a representative to
personally examine Versace merchandise" at the locations
under suspicion, according to the affidavit.
The Versace representative, Ai Torii, visited several
stores and was offered a range of supposedly designer-brand goods
at steep markdowns off what store representatives said were their
standard retail prices.
What Torii discovered "validated our suspicions,"
Torii was offered a $12,500 sofa for $6,000. She
was offered an eight-place dinner setting at an even greater discount,
$2,200 instead of $10,500, according to the affidavit.
At some locations, Torii said, sales representatives
hedged when she asked whether goods they were selling were Versace.
One man said "he did not know who actually
designed the items and that he buys them from vendors" and
that the goods would not come with a certificate of authenticity,
according to the affidavit.
Others said some goods were Versace replicas.
But another man stated outright that a sofa Torii
recognized as a copy of a Versace pattern was a genuine Versace
DeMore said that some of the counterfeit Versace
goods were sufficiently well-constructed to be convincing even
to a discerning customer.
"Some of the products they were selling were
fifty, sixty thousand dollars for a single item," DeMore
said. People spending that much are "usually pretty savvy"
about what they are buying, he pointed out.
Typical customers of the stores now under investigation
included "wealthy tourists," DeMore said.
Counterfeit goods threaten consumers and rob legitimate
businesses and retailers of millions of dollars, Kice said.
Counterfeit goods "don't represent the same
quality" and even if someone pays thousands of dollars for
an apparently fine quality item, as a counterfeit it is still
worth nothing, she added.
Agents from four federal agencies -- U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal
Investigation, the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Bureau
of Investigation -- were involved in the operation today.
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