Detectives squashed a major counterfeit goods ring this week, arresting four northeast Queens men who allegedly imported thousands of fake luxury-brand earphones and Apple watches into the U.S. for sale on the black market.
Fresh Meadows residents Min Jian Hu, 28, of 168th Street and Jonathan Zhou, 23, of 163rd Street, along with Oakland Gardens residents Dahun Wie, 21, of Oceania Street and Huanchao Li of 202nd Street, each face up to 15 years behind bars for their involvement in the ring, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.
The arrests came as the result of an investigation by the NYPD and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection involving undercover purchases of counterfeit devices and court-authorized raids of locations where the goods were stored.
A March 15 raid at a Flushing storage facility resulted in the seizure of thousands of speakers, headphones and counterfeit Apple watches which had arrived via a shipping container days later at Port Newark in New Jersey.
“An operation such as the one allegedly run by the defendants fuels an underground economy,” Brown said in a statement Thursday. “They are cash businesses that pay no taxes and damage the reputations of reputable brand owners and lower consumer confidence in the name brands by foisting inferior products into the market place.”
Brown noted that the seized counterfeit items had a total street value of $200,000, or about 10 percent of the actual cumulative value of similar authentic devices.
According to the charges, on Feb. 28, a U.S. Customs and Border Agent inspected a package addressed to Hu and found within it 850 “Powerbeats” headphone boxes, 1,500 “Beats by Dre” and “Beats Pill” stereo boxes and 300 logo caps. Each item was deemed counterfeit.
Law enforcement agents determined that the boxes and caps were shipped separately from the counterfeit devices and later assembled together in order to avoid detection by customs agents.
Earlier in March, prosecutors said, an undercover detective met with Wie in Queens and purchased from him an assortment of counterfeit products purported to be of the “Beats by Dre” brand for $420. The payment was made to a PayPal account belonging to Hu.
The undercover agent made a second purchase four days later, picking up additional “Beats by Dre” items and two Apple watches, all of which were deemed counterfeit. Prosecutors said the officer paid Wie $180 in cash and made another $160 payment to Hu’s PayPal account.
Customs agents and the NYPD intercepted on March 9 a container addressed to Hu which arrived at Port Newark. The container had numerous boxes of counterfeit Apple watches and generic headphones, earbuds and speakers.
Investigators allowed for the container to be delivered to its destination, a self-storage facility on Delong Street in Flushing, on March 15. Police observed eight individuals, including the four suspects, unload the items from the container and into a gray Toyota Sierra operated by Wie.
The NYPD then executed a host of court-authorized searches, including the shipping container at the self-storage facility, recovering 4,250 generic speakers, 4,320 generic headphones and 339 counterfeit Apple watches. They found additional counterfeit items from the Toyota Sienna and more than 3,800 Beats headphones and speakers, 27 apple watches and various counterfeit cases and logos from Hu’s residence.
Hu, Zhou, Wie and Li were arraigned Wednesday on charges of first-degree trademark counterfeiting and released without bail. They are due back in court on May 3.