Customs agents crack down on fake goods

Agency investigates counterfeit electronics, more

By Haley Rush
Copyright 2019 CNN

ICE has special customs agents, a branch of the agency many people haven't heard of.

PORTLAND, Ore. - When you think of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE for short, the immigration side is what usually comes to mind. But what about the customs side?

It's a branch of ICE many people haven't heard of.

It's called Homeland Security Investigations or HSI. Their job is to enforce customs law. That can mean investigating anything coming in and out of the country, whether it's people or goods.

"One of the things we have laid out here is basically a counterfeit iPhone, fraud warranty scheme," said Special Agent for HSI Michael Williams.

Williams said a tip in 2017 eventually led them to Quan Jiang. Williams said Jiang was living in Corvallis, ordering counterfeit iPhones from China, then returning them to Apple and getting real phones in return.

"During the investigation we found he had returned about 3,000 phones to Apple," said Williams. "Apple accepted about half of those, so if you estimate these phones are worth about 600 dollars apiece, he basically scammed Apple for about $900,000 dollars."

Williams said Jiang pleaded guilty in May. He's scheduled to be sentenced in August.

"What we found out during this investigation is Apple was losing tens of millions of dollars on this and people think oh Apple is a big company, they can handle it, well all those costs get passed on to the consumers," said Williams.

Another recent case, one Williams calls dangerous, involved counterfeit airbag covers.

"He was actually ordering these from a supplier in China," said Williams.

Williams said Pavel Ryzhenkov, who did business in Salem and Sacramento, would then sell the covers on eBay.

"So you think okay not a big deal, right?" said Williams. "Problem is, if that airbag doesn't separate like it's supposed to or the unit here isn't locked down and comes out these become projectiles and that has caused deaths out there in the field."

Special agents seized about $150,000 in cash from Ryzhenkov. Williams said he admitted to the scheme and was sentenced to six months in prison last year.

"But the main thing to take away from this for consumers is if you see airbag covers online, it's probably a fake," said Williams.

Finally, Williams showed the FOX 12 Investigators a case out of state still being investigated by HSI agents.

Williams said he can't say much, other than they've been purchasing music CDs on eBay from a couple sellers and every single one has come back as counterfeit.

"The reason they're high-quality is because they're using the same CD manufacturing machines in China as they're using to make the real CDs," said Williams.

These cases are just a small portion of what Williams and his team investigates day to day.

"I love the freedom of the number of areas we get to work," said Williams. "Anything that comes or goes across the border, we have the ability to work those investigations, so it can be a person it can be a box of zippers it could be anything."

Williams said being sentenced for counterfeiting and trafficking goods could get you up to 20-years in prison.

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