December 18th, 2007 13:49 EST
ICE arrests 21 individuals for copyright violations
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Twenty-one individuals were arrested here today by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents working in conjunction with the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) and Puerto Rico Bureau of Special Investigations for federal copyright statute violations.
In May 2007, after an ICE investigation into allegations of criminal infringement of copyrights at several flea markets in Puerto Rico, the agency launched the first phase of Operation Digital Pirates, an effort to identify intellectual property rights (IPR) violators. The operation led to the seizure of more than 53,000 counterfeit music CDs and DVDs.
This morning, ICE teamed up with other federal and local law enforcement officers and arrested 21 individuals indicted by a federal grand jury in November 2007 for violations of federal copyright statutes. The arrests took place in the municipalities of Bayamon, Vega Baja, Morovis, Mayaguez, Hatillo, Quebradillas, Ponce, Guayanilla and Carolina, Puerto Rico.
According to the indictment, the defendants (26 in total) infringed copyright laws by reproducing and distributing music CDs and DVDs, for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office in Puerto Rico is committed to the prosecution of individuals who sell counterfeit products. In the end, this underground market is damaging to the artists, the local economy and the consumers," said Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. "The joint efforts of federal and state law enforcement agencies, in collaboration with music and movie industry groups in Puerto Rico, will have a significant impact on the black market which has proliferated in recent years."
"The growth in IPR violations in our jurisdiction is definitely one of our concerns. We've seen the enormous profits made from the sale of counterfeit goods used by international organized crime groups to bankroll other criminal activities, including trafficking in illegal drugs, weapons, and other contraband," said Manuel Oyola Torres, special agent-in-charge of ICE Office of Investigations in Puerto Rico. "We will continue working with our partners in the MPAA and RIAA to shut down these criminal enterprises."
"There can be no doubt that the illegal music trade is big business, attracting various types and groups of criminals who increasingly have connections to drugs, guns and in some cases even terrorist activities," said Brad Buckles, Executive Vice President, Anti-Piracy, RIAA. "These are crimes that require close collaboration between law enforcement, government and the intellectual property industries in a way that provides a sustained pressure on those who steal in this manner. The illegal trafficking of counterfeit music and other goods drives local retailers out of business and deprives cities and states of important tax revenue generated from legitimate purchases. We applaud ICE and the many law enforcement agencies involved in taking this important action to protect music and other IP industries from theft."
As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling and distributing counterfeit products. ICE investigations focus not only on keeping counterfeit products off U.S. streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind this activity.
In fiscal year 2006, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE marked an 83 percent increase in the number of IPR seizures, including 14,675 seizures of counterfeit goods worth more than $155 million, a 67 percent increase from the year before. ICE investigations resulted in 219 arrests, 134 indictments and 170 convictions in intellectual property rights violations.
Between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, ICE agents arrested more than 700 individuals for IPR violations and dismantled several large scale criminal organizations that distributed counterfeit merchandise to nations around the globe. At the same time, ICE investigations into these networks resulted in 449 criminal indictments and 425 convictions. Together, ICE and CBP seized more than $750 million worth of counterfeit goods from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2006.
The criminal infringement of a copyright has a penalty up to five years imprisonment if it is a first offense, and ten years imprisonment if the offense is a second or subsequent offense, a fine up to $250,000, and a supervised release term. Trafficking in counterfeit labels affixed to the illegal copies of motion picture DVDs or music CDs has a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jenifer Hernandez.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial and the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
-- ICE --