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Police bag counterfeit goods at Hillsville flea market

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Shoppers who found incredibly good deals on Gucci bags in the first few hours of the Labor Day Flea Market and Gun Show on Friday may well have gone home with a counterfeit, according to the Virginia State Police.

But by noon, 10 special agents and two sergeants had moved in to seize an estimated $2.5 million worth of mostly counterfeit handbags and jewelry and to arrest 12 people working at 10 booths, according to Sgt. Mike Conroy, state police spokesman.

"We have been working with manufacturers of the trademarks," he explained. "We were alerted there was potential counterfeit property out there."

State police did not try to find every piece of counterfeit merchandise that typically attracts about 2,000 dealers and shoppers by the hundreds of thousands. Conroy said they focused in on dealers that had large amounts of counterfeit goods.

Of the counterfeit merchandise, the dealers in question allegedly tried to copy and sell designer brands like Coach, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Tiffany and others.

Representatives of the manufacturers assisted the state police in identifying counterfeit goods at the scene.

While the price at the flea market might have been something like $25 or so, for example, Conroy noted that the actual product retails for a lot more, like $500 in some cases, which led to the $2.5 million valuation that the state police put on the seized goods.

In the end police filled a 40-foot-long cargo container with the goods in question.

"That's based on the manufacturers' suggested price of what they copied," Conroy explained, about the estimate on the seized property.

There was one example of a potentially dangerous counterfeit item that police found — electric surge protectors with a counterfeited Underwriters Laboratories trademark on them.

UL is an agency that tests for products safety and granting use of its logo to merchandise means that the device has been found to operate safely. Conroy said the surge protectors could cause a fire.

The 12 suspects were charged with offering for sale counterfeit goods. No names were released, but Conroy noted that most people charged were from the New York area.

All those arrested were cooperative, the spokesman said. Police allowed the vendors to secure their property before taking them before a magistrate.

Almost all returned to sell their remaining merchandise not thought to be counterfeit after being arrested, Conroy said.

The raid ended up being pretty low-key, he added. "I would daresay most of the people at the flea market did not even know we were there."

Selling counterfeit goods is a class 6 felony, for which a conviction could carry the penalty of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500 or less.

The counterfeit cases will be prosecuted in the Carroll County courts.