Anti-Piracy Operation Buckles Down on Jeans

LOS ANGELES -- A pre-holiday crackdown on pirated and counterfeit goods in Los Angeles landed 28 people in jail and yielded thousands of pirated jeans, CDs, DVDs and other illegal booty worth more than $2.7 million on the street, officials announced Tuesday.

As part of efforts to crack down on counterfeit merchandise, the Los Angeles Anti-Piracy Task Force's "Operation Clean Sweep" busted manufacturers, distributors and merchants throughout Los Angeles, including downtown's Fashion District, in raids Thursday through Saturday.

The 28 people arrested were facing a variety of charges, including manufacturing, distribution and sales of counterfeit goods, said LAPD Cmdr. David Doan. Nearly 200,000 pirated items with a street value of $2.76 million were seized, he said.

The confiscated loot -- including Spanish-language music CDs, watches, sunglasses, fake Ed Hardy apparel and bootlegged DVDs of such current theatrical fare as "Seven Pounds" and "Bolt" -- filled three tables and numerous garbage bags displayed by members of the task force today.

"Piracy is a serious business, but we're determined to sweep it out of Los Angeles," said City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, a former DreamWorks SKG executive who chairs the anti-piracy group. "People who make counterfeit goods are stealing, plain and simple. It's the same as picking someone's pocket or shoplifting."

The raids were carried out by 45 police officers, along with investigators from private industries, resulting in the second-largest bust of pirated and counterfeit goods in Los Angeles history, Doan said.

Greuel said sales of pirated goods, which often originate in Taiwan, are frequently connected to gang members, who increasingly find the illicit business more lucrative than drug sales.

Counterfeit goods sold on the street are often priced at half the amount of the genuine article, but the quality is usually shoddy, officials said.

"It's all trash, it's all false, and it's not worth buying," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Counterfeiters target practically every consumer product, resulting in not just badly produced CDs and sunglasses but "poison toothpaste, brake pads made of straw and lead-tainted toys," said Deborah Greaves, general counsel for Los Angeles clothiers True Religion, whose high-fashion jeans have been frequently pirated.

According to a report issued this year by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, piracy costs the Los Angeles economy jobs across nine sectors for a total of $4.4 billion in lost wages annually.

"During these difficult economic times, we we can't afford to lose a single job or a single dollar," Greuel said. "Every dollar lost to piracy represents wages lost for hardworking Angelenos."

The Los Angeles Anti-Piracy Task Force was formed in February 2007 to combat the crippling impact to the local economy of the phony goods trade. The group includes a diverse range of leaders representing law enforcement, business, government and the entertainment industry.

As for the hundreds of thousands of illegal products seized in the raids, Doan said they would be destroyed following the criminal cases against the individuals under arrest.

Destroyed, he added, "in the greenest way possible."

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