Five individuals and five corporations have been charged in an indictment unsealed today in Brooklyn, N.Y., for allegedly importing hazardous and counterfeit toys from China for sale in the United States, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta E. Lynch; Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York James T. Hayes Jr.; Robert E. Perez, New York Field Operations Director of Customs and Border Protection (CBP); Chairman Inez Tenenbaum of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); and Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly of the New York City Police Department (NYPD).
The 24-count indictment charges Chenglan Hu, 51, Hua Fei Zhang, 52, and Xiu Lan Zhang, 60, all Chinese nationals and residents of Queens, N.Y., and Guan Jun Zhang, 29, and Jun Wu Zhang, 28, both naturalized citizens and Queens residents, along with their closely held companies Family Product USA Inc., H.M. Import USA Corp., ZCY Trading Corp., Zone Import Corp. and ZY Wholesale Inc., with importing and trafficking hazardous toys in violation of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and toys bearing copyright-infringing images and counterfeit trademarks, smuggling, money laundering and structuring.
“The defendants are accused of importing and selling toys that posed significant health hazards to children or were the product of blatant intellectual property theft,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “They allegedly retooled their operations many times in order to avoid detection, and despite repeated citations by the authorities, they continued to peddle counterfeit toys featuring Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants and other popular children’s characters. Today’s actions reflect a Justice Department focused on ensuring that consumers receive safe and legitimate goods.”
“For years, the defendants sought to enrich themselves by importing and selling dangerous and counterfeit children’s toys without regard for the law or the health of our children,” said U.S. Attorney Lynch. “Profits from the counterfeit items, as well as toys riddled with lead and choking hazards, went to provide the defendants with luxury cars. We stand committed to protecting the residents of our communities from those who would engage in such conduct.”
The five individual defendants were arrested this morning, and a federal task force comprising HSI agents, other federal agents and NYPD officers, aided by CBP officers and CPSC investigators, executed four search warrants and nine seizure warrants. The agents, officers and investigators searched the defendants’ warehouse, two residences and an email account. In addition, three luxury vehicles, including a Porsche and Lexus, three personal bank accounts and three corporate accounts were seized. The agents also filed lis pendens on two of the defendants’ properties in Queens, N.Y. The defendants’ initial appearances are scheduled this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ramon E. Reyes Jr. in the Eastern District of New York.
The indictment charges that from July 2005 through January 2013 the individual defendants used their companies, the corporate defendants, to import toys from China that they sold, both wholesale and retail, from a storefront and warehouse in Ridgewood, N.Y., and other locations in Brooklyn and Queens.
According to the indictment, the defendants’ companies had children’s toys seized by CBP from shipping containers entering the United States from China on 33 separate occasions. Seventeen of the 33 seizures were of violative toys – toys prohibited from import into and distribution in the United States, under laws and regulations enforced by the CPSC, because of excessive lead content, excessive phthalate levels, small parts that presented choking, aspiration or ingestion hazards, and easily accessible battery compartments. Sixteen of the 33 seizures were of toys bearing copyright-infringing images and counterfeit trademarks, including knockoff versions of toys featuring a wide variety of popular children’s characters, such as Winnie the Pooh, Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants, Betty Boop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Spiderman, Tweety, Mickey Mouse, Pokémon, as well as those from movies, such as the “Cars,” “Toy Story” and “High School Musical.”
The indictment charges that following each of the 33 seizures, the violator toy company was served written notice by CBP detailing the reason for the seizure, and a representative of the company signed a release form acknowledging the seizure and abandoning the seized goods. Additionally, the violator company and its principal were served written notice by CPSC of the specific safety violations of the toys, and each time a representative of the company signed a release form acknowledging the seizure and abandoning the seized goods.
Due to the number and volume of the seizures, the individual defendants allegedly shifted their use of the companies and alternated formal roles, in order to continue importing and distributing violative and infringing toys. Each time the number of seizures accumulated for one company, the individual defendants allegedly formed a new toy company to continue importing the violative and infringing toys.
“The people and companies involved in this illegal trade not only allegedly infringed on intellectual property rights, they placed the lives of innocent children in danger,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Hayes. “They allegedly sold toys with high lead content and cheap knock offs with substandard parts that break easily and pose a choking hazard. HSI is firm on using its unique customs expertise and law enforcement partnerships to put an end to the importation and sale of dangerous goods.”
“Customs and Border Protection is on the forefront of intercepting unsafe, counterfeit products,” said CBP New York Field Operations Director Perez. “We are proud to have done our part preventing these dangerous toys from getting in the hands of our children.”
“Today’s action highlights the unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination among federal regulatory and law enforcement partners to keep U.S. consumers safe,” said CPSC Chairman Tenenbaum. “The United States has some of the strongest toy standards and lowest lead limits in the world, and CPSC is committed to enforcing these child safety requirements at the ports and in the marketplace.”
“When it comes to trademark infringement, don’t mess with Mickey or other American icons,” said NYPD Commissioner Kelly.
In the indictment, the government is seeking forfeiture of the seized vehicles and bank accounts and the restrained properties, in addition to a money judgment to be determined at trial.
The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Evan Williams of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Claire Kedeshian and William Campos of the Eastern District of New York. This case was jointly investigated by the HSI Intellectual Property Rights Group and the NYPD, through its participation in the New York Border Enforcement Security Taskforce, with the assistance of CPSC and CBP.
The enforcement action announced today is one of many efforts being undertaken by the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property (IP Task Force). Attorney General Eric Holder created the IP Task Force to combat the growing number of domestic and international intellectual property crimes, protect the health and safety of American consumers, and safeguard the nation’s economic security against those who seek to profit illegally from American creativity, innovation, and hard work. The IP Task Force seeks to strengthen intellectual property rights protection through heightened criminal and civil enforcement, greater coordination among federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, and increased focus on international enforcement efforts, including reinforcing relationships with key foreign partners and U.S. industry leaders. To learn more about the IP Task Force, go to www.justice.gov/dag/iptaskforce/.