Prior to my retirement from the United States Customs Service, I worked in Tacoma and Seattle, as a Senior Special Agent. Though I mainly enjoyed working major narcotics smuggling cases and money laundering investigations, I also pursued cases involving the smuggling and trafficking of counterfeit goods, Intellectual Property Rights, (IPR) cases. In early 1997, I recruited a retired FBI agent, to assist me in these IPR cases. We brought trademark holders, federal, state and local law enforcement officers, and prosecutors together and formed an IPR task force in the Western District of Washington. We, subsequently, raided two major outlets in Lakewood, Washington, and seized large quantities of counterfeit merchandise. The investigation led to other major traffickers in Washington, California, Illinois, and New York.
I retired from Customs in May 2001. I decided to go back to work after 11 months. I applied for a position in Loss Prevention for a major corporation and began working identity theft and counterfeit check cases. I met a retired OSI Agent, through the Tacoma Area Fraud Investigators. He was working in Loss Prevention for another major corporation. We shared the information on common suspects which resulted in the identification of a major organization, which we were able to intercept, and presented our investigative findings to federal law enforcement. The case ended in the successful prosecution of the suspects.
During my work in Loss Prevention, I was contacted by the same retired FBI agent who urged me to apply for my PI license. I did so and I began initiating cases. A small percentage of them were IPR cases.
Out of professional courtesy, I have always contacted federal and local law enforcement agencies when working these cases. You never know when they already have information on a criminal enterprise and are looking for an opportunity to take law enforcement action.
As a private investigator, I, subsequently, returned to one of the major outlets we raided while I was a Customs Agent and made undercover buys of counterfeit merchandise. I took my findings to local law enforcement and assisted them in their criminal investigation. We effectively put six retail operations out of business and criminal charges were filed.
In cases that were handled by serving Cease and Desist letters, and obtaining voluntary surrender of client’s merchandise, we have been effective in shutting down over fifty retailers.
Counterfeit goods are all around us. Some brand name owners protect their brand name regardless of the quantity of counterfeit items being sold. Others have a higher threshold to meet before they become interested. The smugglers and traffickers know this, and as, a result, pick and choose the illegal items they want to sell.
The items range from apparel to medicine, automobile and aircraft parts, and publications. Though these cases only represent a small portion of my investigations, they are still interesting and rewarding.
A more detailed document can be found on the PNAI website, pnai.com, which is only available to current authorized members.
Donald A. Bambenek II