Super Bowl LIII Anti-Counterfeiting and Piracy Event Held in Atlanta
ATLANTA, GEORGIA– On January 31, 2019, United States Attorney William M. McSwain spoke at the National Football League’s anti-counterfeiting and piracy press conference held in connection with Super Bowl LIII. U.S. Attorney McSwain announced six separate indictments charging 13 individuals with a multitude of crimes, including conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods, trafficking in counterfeit goods, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aiding and abetting.
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Each year, the Super Bowl unites Americans in a unique way. It is a celebration of the game, its players, and of the competitive spirit that helps to define our country.
Unfortunately, with all the good that comes along with events like the Super Bowl, there’s an opportunity for criminals to prey on unwitting fans. These events attract people looking to make a quick buck through counterfeiting.
Criminal counterfeiting and piracy are serious crimes. When fans spend their hard-earned money on NFL tickets and merchandise, they deserve the real deal. And today, I am here to announce criminal counterfeiting charges that my Office has brought to help ensure that NFL fans – and all of us – get what we pay for when we attend a big event.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has filed six criminal indictments against multiple defendants, alleging their involvement in a scheme to traffic in counterfeit ticket sales. This widespread conspiracy spanned multiple states, involved 13 defendants, and covered numerous sporting and concert events.
We know from our investigation that the defendants targeted events and their victims based on profitability – the bigger the event, the bigger the payoff. The scheme involved several steps and multiple players: after determining which events would draw the most profit, the schemers would use real tickets, or photographs of real tickets, to print counterfeit ones for the event, and then the sellers would travel to the host city to sell their phony tickets to unwitting fans. This scheme involved sophisticated printing that mimicked the authentic tickets’ markings and hologram.
Many of the individuals that we have charged allegedly defrauded NFL football fans by printing, distributing, and selling counterfeit tickets to Super Bowl LI (51) in Houston (between the Patriots and the Falcons) and Super Bowl LII (52) in Minneapolis (between the Eagles and the Patriots).
In addition to these games, the criminal indictments allege that the schemers targeted other high-profile sporting events, including the Army-Navy football game played in Philadelphia in December 2017; two College Football National Championship games (one played in Tampa, in January 2017, and another played here in Atlanta in January 2018); and various big-ticket basketball games. They also trafficked in counterfeit concert tickets in various venues.
The initial arrests in this case were of two individuals named Eugene Smith and Eric Ferguson, both from the Atlanta metropolitan area. Ferguson is alleged to have printed the counterfeit tickets for Smith, who then supplied the tickets to several additional individuals who solicited buyers and sold them. Both Smith and Ferguson have been charged with producing and distributing counterfeit Super Bowl tickets in 2017 and 2018. Ferguson has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. Smith has pleaded guilty to four counts and awaits sentencing in custody in Philadelphia.
The second wave of indictments targeted additional printers, distributors, and street-level counterfeit ticket sellers. Multiple arrests occurred earlier this week through a coordinated federal, state, and local effort across multiple states. As fate would have it, one of these individuals, Damon Daniels, was apprehended en route to Atlanta, thanks to the great police work by the Duluth, Georgia police department. The arresting officer reported that Mr. Daniels’s car was filled with printing equipment and cardstock, presumably to resume counterfeit ticket sales at this year’s Super Bowl.
The individuals charged and arrested this week are the following: Rakee Russ, Mustafa Tucker, Malik Brown, Kevin Sadat, Edward Dunmore, Khiale Warren, and Rodney Higginbottom, all of Philadelphia; and Sean Williams, Damon Daniels, Rahiem Watts, and Jermaine Jones, all of New York. These indictments, which are now publicly available and filed with the court, outline the charges and identify which of these individuals are charged with conduct related to counterfeit Super Bowl tickets. We have also prepared a press release that provides additional details about the charges.
If convicted, the defendants face a range of penalties, determined primarily by the amount of the financial loss attributable to each. And by bringing these charges federally, we have assured that many of these individuals will serve serious prison time if convicted.
I want to extend my thanks to FBI Philadelphia for spearheading the investigation and to Special Agent in Charge Michael Harpster and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Joe Bushner for their leadership, and to our local partners who served as boots on the ground – always willing to step in and stop the counterfeit sales, where possible. They acted swiftly when we learned about events unfolding in real time, often as the individuals were meeting their victims. Thank you to the Philadelphia Police Department and Commissioner Richard Ross; to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and Attorney General Josh Shapiro and his First Deputy Chief, Bureau of Investigations, John Kitzinger, who is with us today; to the New York Police Department; to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office; to the FBI Field Office in Atlanta; and finally, to BJay Pak, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia and his Office.
This case serves as an important reminder to all of us who enjoy sporting and concert events with friends and family.
Most importantly, when you are buying tickets, consider the source. The safest route is always to purchase from an approved source. Many fans believe that if they are not purchasing tickets from scalpers on the street, they are safe, and that it’s OK to buy tickets on a third-party website because the sellers can be tracked and traced. That is not always the case. The majority of counterfeit sales happen not on the streets, but through the Internet.
The FBI and the Department of Justice take counterfeiting and piracy very seriously. Economic crimes like these will continue to be a focus of my Office and of the Department.
At this time, I would like to introduce my colleague from the FBI Philadelphia Field Office, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Joe Bushner.