The iPhone cases with crooked "Chanel" logos you see over at your local cellphone accessory store or mall kiosk could be evidence of an international criminal conspiracy, according to the feds. A Carrollton resident, Shiraz Sherali Odhwani, 54, has been sentenced to 36 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $950,000 in restitution, after a joint investigation between the FBI, the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, the Longview Police Department, the Baytown Police Department and the Austin Police Department found that he and three other men were selling counterfeit cellphone accessories from China. The men were first indicted in May 2011, but many of the court documents were only unsealed after Odhwani's sentencing.
During the investigation, law enforcement agents seized 130,000 counterfeit items from Odhwani's store, Turtle Wireless on Harry Hines Boulevard, as well as in a storage space he was leasing. According to a press release from the FBI, the "infringement amount" of all that fake merch is between $2.5 million and $7 million (which seems like an extraordinarily broad range).
According to the indictment, Odhwani started buying fake phone accessories from suppliers in China back in 2008. In a factual resume, he admitted to making trips to China to buy the items, as well as going through a broker he hired in the city of Guangzhou. The broker helped him buy stuff that was "both counterfeit and legitimate," he writes. The feds say he then sold the the merchandise to three other people -- Zeeshan Shaikh, Hasam Batliwala, and Umair Khan -- until 2010 or so. The three men run mall kiosks in Longview, Austin and Baytown, respectively.
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So, why is this such a big deal to the FBI? Probably because all the counterfeit merch was made to look like it came from some very big brand names. The items seized were marked with logos and designs resembling those of Burberry, Coach, Chanel, Disney, Gucci, Hardy Way, Juicy Couture, Louis Vuitton and Playboy. Batliwala was also accused of selling counterfeit Chanel jewelry.
At times, the indictment says, the merchandise bore "counterfeit marks which were identical to and substantially indistinguishable from from the victims' protected marks." But the counterfeits were of poor quality, it adds, and "in some instances... were not even a style or product produced by the trademark manufacturer."
"This case is an example of the type of efforts being undertaken by the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property (IP Task Force)," the FBI writes in their press release. "Attorney General Eric Holder created the IP Task Force to combat the growing number of domestic and international intellectual property crimes, protect the health and safety of American consumers, and safeguard the nation's economic security against those who seek to profit illegally from American creativity, innovation, and hard work."
In addition to the very important work of keeping counterfeit Burberry phone cases out of the hands of the American public, the task force has also recently busted counterfeit perfume traffickers in New Jersey and online retailers of fake sports apparel. For now, Turtle Wireless remains open for business .