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Breaking News in the Industry: August 20, 2018

Thirty-three charged in half a billion dollar smuggling scheme of counterfeit luxury goods

Thirty-three individuals were charged Thursday following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) into a scheme to illegally bring into the United States millions of dollars of Chinese-manufactured goods by smuggling them through ports of entry on the East and West Coasts.  One defendant is also charged with unlawful procurement of naturalization.  The charges include conspiracy to traffic, and trafficking, in counterfeit goods; conspiracy to smuggle, and smuggling, counterfeit goods into the United States; money laundering conspiracy; immigration fraud and unlawful procurement of naturalization.  In addition, the government restrained nine real properties in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn, New York belonging to the defendants.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue for the Eastern District of New York, Special Agent in Charge Angel M. Melendez of HSI New York and Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the charges. Charges were also announced in a related state case being prosecuted by the Queens District Attorney’s Office. “This investigation exposed the global nature of intellectual property crimes, allegedly being executed by those arrested today.  Counterfeit goods manufactured and smuggled from China with a suggested value close to half a billion dollars, were intended to make its way into U.S. markets and into the hands of unsuspecting consumers,” said HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Melendez.  “This investigation should be a crystal clear message that counterfeiting and intellectual property rights violations is anything but a victimless crime as it harms legitimate businesses, consumers and governments.”

“The defendants allegedly smuggled millions of dollars of counterfeit luxury goods into our country, depriving companies of their valuable and hard-earned intellectual property,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.  “The illegal smuggling of counterfeit goods poses a real threat to honest businesses, and I commend our federal prosecutors and partners at HSI and the NYPD for their outstanding work on this important investigation.  The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who seek to exploit our borders by smuggling counterfeit goods for sale on the black market.”   [Source: US Immigration & Customs Enforcement]

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Jury grants $1.5 million verdict in malicious prosecution lawsuit

A jury in New Mexico recommended earlier this month that $1.5 million in damages be paid to a Silver City woman in a lawsuit against Walmart, and the retail giant plans to ask for a review of the evidence. Shaydle Mendoza was shopping at Silver City’s Walmart in July 2013 when her complaint states she was detained by the store’s “loss prevention officers” and then arrested for shoplifting. Mendoza spent a night in county jail and paid a $500 non-refundable bond for her release. The charge was later dropped.

After the Sixth Judicial District Attorney’s office dismissed her case, Mendoza said she contacted the store the following December asking whether she was allowed to shop there. The complaint states that she got permission from the store to return, but when she did she was arrested once again, this time for trespassing. Mendoza’s complaint further states that the incidents led to a loss of income after her employer ran a background check that showed she had been charged with shoplifting and trespassing.  Mendoza filed suit in 2014, naming Walmart Stores East, the store’s general manager, and a dozen loss prevention associates as defendants.

After deliberating late into the evening of August 10, a jury of 12 found that Walmart loss prevention officer Robert Bencomo had probable cause to believe Mendoza was concealing merchandise and detained her in a reasonable manner in the July incident. The jury found, however, that Bencomo “intentionally inflicted emotional distress” on Mendoza when she returned to the store in December, and found him liable for malicious abuse of process. The jury also found that Bencomo intentionally destroyed video evidence in order to defeat a potential lawsuit by Mendoza.

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The compensatory and punitive damages the jury recommended amount to $1.5 million according to court documents, but the judgment has not yet been filed. Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove told the Sun-News, “We don’t believe the jury’s verdict is supported by the evidence.” He said the company planned to request that the court review the evidence, but did not say whether a decision to appeal the case had been made. Christopher Cardenas, one of Mendoza’s attorneys, told the Sun-News that Walmart’s counsel had orally presented that motion immediately after the jury presented its verdict, and it was denied by Judge Timothy Aldrich.   [Source: Las Cruces Sun News]

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‘Kleptomaniac’ employee arrested for theft

A self-described kleptomaniac in Oregon who worked at the Jantzen Beach Target was arrested Thursday after allegedly stealing many items, “often Legos” from the store over a 2-month period. Phillip James Hutton was taken into custody after one of the store’s loss prevention officers discovered he’d been stealing, the probable cause document said. Between June 25 and August 14, Hutton allegedly bought items but at an unauthprized discount rate, causing a total loss of $795. The 32-year-old man admitted he has kleptomania and gets a high from stealing, the documents obtained by KOIN 6 News show. He also allegedly admitted to “taking some Legos and drinks and light bulbs,” and that he had reduced the prices on items he paid for.   [Source: KOIN6 CBS News]

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Grocer launches driverless delivery

Kroger announced it would begin piloting its automated grocery delivery at a single Fry’s Food and Drug Store in Scottsdale, Arizona today. In June, Kroger announced the program and its partnership with robotics firm Nuro. Customers can place their orders through the Fry’s website or mobile app, then choose same-day or next-day delivery. There is no minimum order and the cost is a $5.95 flat fee.

“We’re excited to launch our autonomous vehicle delivery pilot with Fry’s in Scottsdale,” Kroger’s chief digital officer Yael Cosset said in a statement. “Kroger wants to bring more customers the convenience of affordable grocery delivery, and our pilot with Nuro will help us test and learn to understand customer acceptance of autonomous vehicles in our seamless offering.”    [Source: FoodDIVE]

Shoplifter punches LP associate

Chico California Police say they have arrested a man who punched a Loss Prevention associate while trying to steal power tools. They say Saturday just before 2:30pm, Chase Waller, 28, of Chico, and Cristopher Farley, 25, of Oroville were at the Home Depot on Notre Dam Boulevard.  Investigators say they tried leaving the store while carrying power tools that they didn’t pay for.  Police say, when confronted by the Loss Prevention associate, Waller assaulted the employee.  They then jumped in a Honda and took off. That Honda was spotted and stopped by an officer minutes later on Forest Avenue.  The Loss Prevention associate identified Waller as the man who committed the robbery and assault.  Police say they located the stolen power tools in the Honda. A third passenger, a female, was questioned and released. Waller was arrested for robbery and violation of probation.  Farley was arrested for driving on a suspended license and a probation violation.   [Source: CBS12 News]

Google might be opening a retail store

Google’s latest plan to tackle the retail market involves a two-floor store in Chicago’s Fulton Market. If it pans out, this would be the tech company’s first permanent retail location. The space would total 14,000 square feet across several interconnected brick buildings, according to The Chicago Tribune. This planned store would be several blocks south of the company’s Midwest HQ.

This isn’t Google’s first attempt at a brick-and-mortar store, which would be a prime locale to show off its ever-growing selection of hardware products. But until now, Google’s been relegated to the occasional pop-up and “stores within stores” in the US and UK, sectioning off space to show demos of Chromebooks, smart speakers, and phones.

Google declined to comment to the Tribune, but if the rumored standalone space becomes a reality, then it would be the latest in the company’s long line of attempts to crack the retail market. Previously, it spent millions renovating a planned 5,000-square-foot retail space in New York’s swanky SoHo district before ultimately abandoning these plans and leasing the space out instead..   [Source: The Verge]

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