State: 2,300 counterfeit sports hats confiscated

Lt. Kevin Jones with the Division of Alcohol & Tobacco Enforcement examines seized counterfeit baseball caps on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — More than 2,300 allegedly counterfeit sports hats were confiscated at 14 business sites statewide and two arrests made during a month-long investigation by the Delaware Department of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement.

It was an atypical bust for alcohol and tobacco enforcement agents, but the crackdown on alleged criminal activity adhered to the agency’s mission.
“Not all we do is solely focused on alcohol and tobacco issues,” DATE Lt. Kevin Jones said. “If in the course of regular duties we see something else that might be illegal then we’re going to investigate it and pursue it further.

“We’re not just going to overlook or ignore what might be improper activity.”

By the end of the probe, unlicensed hats with an estimated value of over $27,500 were seized, allegedly violating the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and NCAA trademarks, police claimed on Friday.

The Division of Alcohol & Tobacco Enforcement seized counterfeit caps on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Stepping away from its normal policing duties in the First State on Jan. 2, the agency said discovered suspected fraudulent sports merchandise during a routine compliance check at One Stop Liquor Mart at 6 College Park Lane in Georgetown. While the retailer claimed it was unaware of any illegal activity, DATE returned the following day with a search warrant that seized 690 hats and sales invoices back to July, authorities said.

Further investigation aided by the retailers expanded the scope to New Castle and Kent counties, too, and DATE determined that Pennsylvania-based company Lizard Sunwear had allegedly distributed items illegally to DOT Discount Cigarette stores in Selbyville, Millsboro, Lewes, Bethany Beach, Georgetown, Milford, Dover and Smyrna, along with other businesses in Newark, Claymont and Wilmington.

“There were a lot of man hours spent on this operation and we made the choice to focus on what had to be a very involved investigation,” Lt. Jones said. “It was an all or nothing approach. We weren’t going to just concentrate on four or five locations and overlook the rest.”

The enormity of the territory covering the entire length of the state required two-member DATE teams traveling to check in on the retailers for several weeks, according to Lt. Jones.

A Maryland-based trademark investigator aided in the investigation and confirmed the fraudulent nature of the hats, Lt. Jones said. He said apparent imprecise stitching, distorted and off-colored logos and lack of trademark holograms were among the clues of cheaply made, unlicensed hats.
“It was pretty easy to see the poor quality,” according to Lt. Jones.

In December 2017, Dover Police announced a large scale investigation into allegedly fraudulent sports memorabilia being sold at the Dover Mall.

During his eight years with DATE, Lt. Jones this is the first sports item focused operation the agency has conducted. Fraudulent items of bucket, brim and beanie-style hats involved trademark violations at the professional and collegiate level, authorities claimed.

Also, authorities said Lizard Sunwear is not licensed to conduct business in Delaware.

Facing the charges

Richard Petty

On Thursday, owner Richard Petty, 70, of Malvern, Pennsylvania, was accompanied with an attorney while turning himself in to face charges of felony trademark counterfeiting over 1,000 items and misdemeanor failure to obtain a business license. He was arraigned at Justice of the Peace Court 2 in Rehoboth Beach and released on $4,500 unsecured bond.

Lizard Sunwear employee Derrick Andricola, 56, of Turnersville, N.J., was charged with trademark counterfeiting when allegedly seen counterfeit hats to a Delaware retailer, DATE said. He was arraigned at JP Court 2 on Jan. 24 and released on $1,000 unsecured bond.

The reportedly fraudulent merchandise will be destroyed by a bulldozer at a landfill upon conclusion of the legal case, Lt. Jones said.

Liquor stores are prohibited from selling such sports-related items, and DATE said disciplinary measures can be considered for violations. Tobacco stores can sell legally-trademarked sports items but can be charged for counterfeit merchandising.

DATE noted in a news release Friday that “The purchase of pirated and unlicensed goods could serve to undermine legitimate business practices.

“The illegal manufacture of counterfeit goods represents predatory trade practices that can endanger our economy and restrict the competitiveness of U.S. products in the global market.

“Consumers who are concerned with the authenticity of purchased goods should contact the store directly.”

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