In what is becoming as much a tradition as the Super Bowl itself, federal law enforcement officials, in conjunction with the NFL, said today they snatched up $13.6 million in fake merchandise and shuttered 313 websites as part of a third-annual sting against NFL-related counterfeit items dubbed Operation Red Zone.
A Warwick, R.I., man was the catch of the operation this year. Officials with a search warrant seized 226 boxes and $130,000 in cash from his home, including more than 4,000 jerseys and various other memorabilia with an estimated value for more than $1 million. Officials snagged another Indianapolis man with $37,000 in counterfeit items he was attempting to sell at a festival, including more than 1,000 hats. Twenty-one other individuals were also arrested across the country.
[BACKGROUND: Last year, $4.8M seized in Operation Red Zone
MORE SUPER BOWL: The 12 Techiest Super Bowl ads of all time]
Officials are cracking down on online vendors too. A total of 313 websites had their domains seized by the federal government. Visitors to those sites now are greeted with a banner educating them about how willful copyright infringement is a federal crime, ICE stated. The webs site raids are part of more than 2,061 sites that have been shut down during the life of the program, which spans more than five years. More than $66,000 has been collected in assets related to the sites.
Operation Red Zone is a massive success compared to last year, when 42,692 items of phony Super Bowl-related memorabilia worth $4.8 million was seized; the year before federal officials nabbed $3.72 million in counterfeit goods.
Since September state, local, and federal law enforcement officials have scoured warehouses, stores, flea markets, online and street vendors looking for the counterfeit items. Led by the U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) division, the operation also included the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations unit, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Postal Inspection Service as well as state and local police.