Anti-counterfeit Drug Strategies
Gobi International Investigations, Inc. provides trademark owners the communication, cooperation and coordination required to combat counterfeiters.
If your company is looking to protect a valuable trademark and you need assistance in closing the loop by combining technology and enforcement, or if you provide a technology that authenticates and will stand up in court, we would encourage you to visit with myself or a Gobi International Investigations, Inc. representative upon your convenience.
Jerry W. Howe
President, Gobi International Investigations Inc.
On The Front Lines:
Catching Counterfeiters Red-Handed!
by Jerry W. Howe
Organized criminal elements in this country and around the world have long been damaging legitimate trademark owners by counterfeiting their goods and stealing their profits. In addition, the serious threat of diversion has caused irreparable harm to the integrity of brand names. We come to this conference to learn from the victims, the legal authorities, enforcement specialists and technology providers on how to combat the problem. Without a unified and concerted effort among all affected by the problem, counterfeiters will continue to operate unabated.
Cooperation is Critical
In February of 1970, after three years in the US Army as a Communications Intelligence Officer, I became a Special Agent for the FBI. During my 26 years as a Special Agent, I worked in various locations including Baltimore, Monterey, Newark, WDC, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Seattle and Bangkok, Thailand. Throughout my career I was continuously reminded of a lecture I heard from Dr. Robert Caldwell at the University of Iowa. He emphasized the importance of one vital concept. He said the success of law enforcement depends on three critical things: COMMUNICATION, COORDINATION AND COOPERATION.
In the early days, the FBI was not very good at communicating, coordinating or cooperating with other federal or local agencies. However as time passed, the quality of state and local law enforcement improved and so did the trust and sense of comradery. In the mid eighties, when the FBI became deeply involved in large scale investigations of well organized and well financed drug operations, it became even clearer that no one agent or in some cases, no one agency, could effectively combat this threat to our nations well-being.
During this time, the concept of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Taskforces became a powerful force used against drug cartels. People remain strongly divided on the issue of how to combat drugs as well as how to combat counterfeiting, diversion and organized retail theft. The DEA strongly believes that seizing large quantities of drugs and arresting the couriers is the best way to measure whether they are successfully impacting the problem. Many trademark holders feel that the measure of success should be based on the amount of merchandise seized. These standards may succeed in slowing down the criminals and look impressive on the nightly news, but the criminal organization is damaged the greatest by crushing the manufacturing at its source, thus eliminating the supply chain of illicit drugs or counterfeit goods.
While I worked in the Houston office, I found that as a FBI agent, I was able to enlist the support of the DEA, US Customs, ATF, INS, and the Harris, Montgomery and Galveston County Organized Crime Units to investigate a case brought to me by two Houston Police Detectives. I also obtained terrific cooperation from numerous local law enforcement agencies on a short-term, short-notification basis. We all contributed unique expertise to the goal. INS contributed office space and a surveillance team, the Harris County Organized Crime Unit contributed a top-notch analyst, Customs and ATF contributed two agents to man a surveillance camera focused on a known trafficker. The DEA furnished an experienced drug investigator while the FBI furnished agents, financial and logistical support for the undercover operation as well as the technical requirements for building the case. Finally, the Houston Police Department contributed two undercover detectives and a surveillance team.
A little more than a year of dedicated cooperation resulted in the largest drug seizure ever in Houston. A dozen drug dealers were arrested, convicted and sent to prison. Valuable progress was made in linking this particular group of criminals to the most wanted target of every law enforcement agency in the State of Texas. Within two years, even the top target was behind bars. Why did it work? COMMUNICATION, COORDINATION AND COOPERATION.
Creating a Network
In 1996, I retired from the Bureau and soon found myself investigating trademark counterfeiters. My first exposure to trademark and copyright matters was during the late seventies when one of my Bureau colleagues from a white-collar crime squad asked me to go undercover and witness the showing of the new Star Wars movie. It was expected to be shown in a local San Francisco bar located a few blocks from the office. The bar seemed harmless enough with several shiny Harleys parked in front. I myself am a motorcycle rider and felt it would be easy to fit in. It didn't take long to learn I didn't belong, once I saw several large men with prison tattoos dancing together next to the juke box. The visit ended uneventfully with me confirming the use of the pirated movie and I left with out incident. It was a live version of Police Academy 1.
My first client as a private investigator was a national sports league association. After a few months with this lone client, I learned the value of networking and cooperation in fighting counterfeiting operations. I took the advise of the head of security of a large sport shoe trade-mark holder and joined the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition. Constantly looking to improve my efficiency and time management, I formed the Tacoma Federal Taskforce. The taskforce held a meeting in Seattle and was comprised of several trademark owners, the US Attorney, US Customs, local prosecutors and police. Through cooperation and coordination, the taskforce has been an outstanding success, not only in combating counterfeiting in Seattle, but in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis and Montreal (Canada) and Manila, Philippines. In the past eighteen months we have been instrumental in the arrest of 20 felons with 90,000 counterfeit items seized, and over $1,000,000 in restitution orders.
A recent sting began at the retail level in Washington where the discovery of bogus goods led to the arrest and indictment and conviction of a counterfeiter in Illinois. He has been in this country illegally for the last 15 years, selling a million dollars in counterfeit a year by manufacturing fakes bearing popular trademarks. 32 high-profile company trademarks were involved. His label suppliers are in Georgia, Texas and California. The goal from the beginning has been to dismantle and crush the whole organization.
The FBI's philosophy is to get all offenders into Federal Criminal Court and sent to jail. I feel this is the greatest weapon in our efforts to combat organized counterfeiting cartels. Historically, however, companies have turned to their legal counsel to help solve what they perceive to be a civil issue. Unfortunately, many corporate lawyers are more familiar and comfortable with civil litigation as compared to Federal Criminal Court.
A recent success story involved competing trademark holders who combined their resources to bring litigation against a retailer selling popular trademarked counterfeit purses. They conducted a civil raid of a retail complex containing several businesses, supported by the US Marshals. They obtained Default Federal Judgments, which the counterfeiters ignored. Unfortunately, the out-of-state law firm had no way or little interest in enforcing the judgment. We discovered during our criminal investigation of the same stores, that the criminal not only copied the two brands in question, but 8 additional trademarks as well. Eventually two of the owners were indicted in Federal Court, arrested and convicted. One went out of business and the other was ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution based on the original civil judgment. She has since had to pay criminal restitution to all ten-trademark holders in the criminal case and cooperated with the government to aid in the investigation against the suppliers. Without the cooperation, coordination and communication of our taskforce and the victim trademark holders, the puzzle would never have been completed and she would still be in business.
Jailing counterfeiters doesn't have to be overly complicated. What good are laws without the ability and interest to enforce them? This is where Gobi International Investigations, Inc. and its alliance partners close the loop. By combining a wide array of today's most sophisticated technologies with an elaborate network of investigators and enforcement agencies, we locate offenders and stop the infractions at their source. We must continue to aggressively support the passage of tough anti-counterfeiting laws. We need to let unscrupulous diverters know we will locate them and halt them from violating distributor contracts, which result in diluting brand identities. We must employ our private investigators to educate the police and prosecutors to the seriousness of these violations. We must combine our forces and communicate, cooperate and coordinate our efforts in the most efficient way possible.