U.S. authorities charged 29 people Friday who were conspiring to illegally import counterfeit luxury fashion goods and deadly drugs worth hundreds of millions of dollars from China and Taiwan.
Some 20 arrests took place on Friday in New Jersey, Florida, Texas, New York, and in the Philippines, as part of an international investigation, federal prosecutors in New Jersey said in a statement.
Two more suspects were detained on Feb. 25 in New York and in Manila, the Philippine capital. Six others accused of involvement remain at large.
The fake Chinese goods were seized at Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, and included counterfeit Coach, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Gucci handbags, fake Nike shoes, and cigarettes.
Undercover agents used wiretaps to discover the scheme, and the initial counterfeiting conspiracy led them to uncover a second scheme to import 50 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine from Taiwan.
"Had they not been caught, approximately $300 million worth of illicit goods would have been smuggled into our country," said U.S. Homeland Security investigator James Dinkins.
"The enormity of this case -- and the fact that we followed the investigative leads directly to the source in China, where so many counterfeit goods originate -- is a stern warning to counterfeiters and smugglers.
"We are vigilantly watching our ports of entry for criminal activity that undermines legitimate commerce and potentially threatens the security of the United States."
According to the indictment, the suspects aimed to import the fake goods into the United States by using containers falsely associated with legitimate retailers.
The conspirators also used stolen corporate identities and false personal identification documents to help import or try to import more than 135 containers of counterfeit goods.
Intellectual property rights are widely flouted in China, which is home to the biggest counterfeit and piracy market in the world.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012