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VOL. 126 | NO. 183 | Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Feds Seize Flea Market

By Andy Meek

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After they shut it down in June, law enforcement agents seized 153,634 counterfeit items from the now-defunct flea market that operated at 4233 S. Third St.

That’s according to an affidavit filed Friday, Sept. 16, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee by a federal agent who participated in the investigation. It was submitted by U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton’s office to bolster the government’s seizure of the property on South Third Street as well as the seizure of a 2009 Toyota Highlander, fake Rolex watches and several thousand dollars from multiple bank accounts.

The affidavit from Scott Partin, a special agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations, also details the extent to which the sale of fake loot, some of which was coming from overseas, was occurring on the property.

The items agents collected range from knockoff Rolexes to fake Louis Vuitton handbags. It includes merchandise seized from the booths of vendors as well as items that were still on their way to the flea market.

After law enforcement officials tallied it up, they estimated the real versions of everything they seized would be worth more than $21 million.

“The sale of counterfeit goods at 4233 South Third Street in Memphis, TN, bearing the trademarks of Nike, Gucci, Coach, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and others has been a longstanding problem for both law enforcement and trademark holders,” Partin said in his affidavit.

He went on to explain that law enforcement officials had sent multiple cease-and-desist letters that were frequently met with promises to cooperate, even though the sales kept happening. Partin’s affidavit recounts how earlier this year, one federal agent walked through the flea market and saw obvious knockoff items with the trademarks of brands like Gucci, Oakley and the NFL and NBA being sold by vendors well below the manufacturer’s suggested retail prices.

Partin said former Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons at one point sent a letter about his “growing concern over criminal activity occurring at and being facilitated by the Third Street flea market.”

The letter noted that “it seems from these numbers as well as the open and notorious manner in which the counterfeit merchandise is sold, that the flea market is operating with a willful disregard of the law.”

Partin’s affidavit notes figures from the attorney general’s office that show there have been almost two dozen felony arrests of vendors operating booths at the flea market between Oct. 9, 2004, and March 4, 2011.

On Aug. 26, 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents learned about mail parcels containing counterfeit merchandise shipped via U.S. Mail directly from China to the flea market. That was a few months after Gibbons sent his letter.

Agents raided the market June 23.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 20 39 190
BUILDING PERMITS 0 305 3,056
BANKRUPTCIES 17 135 753
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 53 329
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0