Police: Counterfeiters had $1 million in knockoff products

HANCOCK COUNTY — A traffic stop on Interstate 70 led police to a warehouse housing a counterfeit merchandising operation, where they seized nearly $1 million worth of fake brand-name clothing and electronics, reports state.

Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Ernstes, a member of the Proactive Criminal Enforcement, or PACE, team, pulled over a sedan driving west on I-70 this week and found bundles of cash and hundreds of knit gloves with imitation UGG logos on them, according to police reports. Shipping labels found in the car led officers to search eight storage facilities in Indianapolis, where they found even more knockoffs, including bogus The North Face jackets, UGG boots and Dr. Dre Beats headphones and speakers.

Police believe the items might have been sold at fairs and festivals in the area, and they are warning the public some of the products present safety concerns. They arrested two men on charges related to the business, according to court records.

The driver and his passenger also had drugs on them during the traffic stop, police said. The driver, Ling Jiang, 34, of Illinois, and his passenger, Fei Qi Zhang, 43, of Florida, each face felony counts of counterfeiting, corrupt business influence and possession of methamphetamine; and a misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Jiang was driving a Nissan Altima heading toward Indianapolis on I-70 when Ernstes pulled his car over; Zhang was riding in the front seat.

Ernstes said he approached the car and asked the men if there was anything illegal in their vehicle. The driver shook his head no but pointed to the trunk of the car — an indication of suspicious behavior, Ernstes said.

Ernstes obtained a search warrant and discovered the trunk of the car held nearly 700 pairs of fake UGG gloves and bundles of bills totaling thousands of dollars, according to a news release from the sheriff’s department. He also found meth and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle, the release said.

Ernstes sent an image of the logos to a company that specializes in identifying counterfeit products. The company determined the symbols were not legitimate.

Officers then searched eight storage units on the east side of Indianapolis that were registered to Zhang. There, they discovered about $35,000 in cash and more than 300 large boxes of counterfeit products, including 1,000 jackets and 200 pairs of headphones, all with a retail value of nearly $1 million, police said.

Police believe the items likely were sold at festivals around the country. They think the counterfeiters might be using Indianapolis as a central location to receive and distribute merchandise across the United States.

Counterfeit items are sometimes poorly made, and police are warning those who might have purchased what appears to be a name-brand product outside a retail store to be cautious; the knockoff headphones have been known to overheat and can cause burns, police said.

Riley Festival officials say neither Jiang nor Zhang was listed as a vendor at last week’s event in downtown Greenfield.

Each of the felony charges the men now face is a Level 6, carrying a penalty of six months to 2½ years in prison; the Class C misdemeanor carries a penalty of 60 days in jail.

The PACE team is a multiagency task force that patrols I-70 from Marion County to the Ohio line, looking for traffickers. Ernstes, the team’s coordinator, said the team is working with officers from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to make further arrests in the case.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.