German Business Charged with Smuggling Realistic Federal Law Enforcement Badges into the United States
ATLANTA – German company Master-Equipment has been charged with manufacturing, selling, and smuggling realistic American federal law enforcement badges into the United States. The charges arise out of an investigation of a phony DEA badge use by Daniel Harbison, a Georgia resident who was sentenced to federal prison after impersonating a DEA agent in June 2015.
“The production and sale of genuine-looking federal badges by Master-Equipment potentially places a badge in the hands of individuals, like Daniel Harbison, who are not law enforcement but use them for their own purposes,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn. “This type of product only serves to undermine the trust the public places in law enforcement.”
“The dismantling of a foreign based company’s ability to sell counterfeit U.S. law enforcement badges to a U.S. market is critical in the post 9/11 era,” said J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office. “While this case was initiated by an unlawful traffic stop by an individual impersonating a federal law enforcement officer, those circumstances and consequences could have been much different and far more tragic.”
According to U.S. Attorney Horn, the criminal complaint, and other information presented in court: Master-Equipment is a distributor and reseller of law enforcement equipment and accessories located in Kaarst, Germany. Master-Equipment uses the website www.badge-police.com to sell and advertise its products over the Internet. Master-Equipment’s website is entirely in English and it contains no German.
Master-Equipment claims that its products are made in America and its website contains an image of a bald eagle, the American flag, and the phrase “God Bless America.” Most of the equipment and accessories sold by Master-Equipment bear the name of American-based law enforcement agencies. The website also contains photographs of and testimonials from purported customers who claim to be former U.S. federal law enforcement officers.
Via its website, Master-Equipment sells a variety of realistic replicas of badges used by American federal law enforcement agencies. For example, Master-Equipment sells badges bearing the name of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”), Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), and United States Marshals Service (“USMS”). Master-Equipment also sells a variety of badges bearing the name of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”).
According to its website, Master-Equipment only sells its badges to “active [and] retired police officers, collectors, or for theatrical production.” Through its website, Master-Equipment implies that it is lawful for a customer to purchase badges as collectable items, so long as the customer does not use the badges to impersonate a law enforcement officer. In fact, under U.S. federal law it is illegal to knowingly manufacture, sell, or possess badges or colorable imitations thereof, which are used by U.S. federal law enforcement departments or agencies, regardless of whether they are used by collectors, theatrical productions, or any other purpose.
In April 2015, an American citizen used a Master-Equipment badge to impersonate a U.S. federal law enforcement officer. Specifically, on April 3, 2015, in Doraville, Georgia, Daniel Harbison (a three-time convicted felon) conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle by engaging police-style green and white flashing lights. Unbeknownst to Harbison, the vehicle was being driven by an off-duty Corporal with the Doraville Police Department. During the unauthorized traffic stop, Harbison wore a T-shirt printed with the letters “DEA,” carried a .45 caliber handgun in a thigh holster, and possessed an identification card purportedly issued by the DEA. The Doraville officer also saw that Harbison possessed a realistic gold and blue badge engraved with the letters “US.” Harbison told the Doraville officer that he was a federal officer. The Doraville officer then stated that other police officers were in route to check the authenticity of Harbison’s law enforcement credentials. Harbison then returned to his car and fled the scene.
Later that day, police officers identified Harbison’s residence and ultimately, he was arrested. At Harbison’s residence, police officers recovered several items, including: (a) a Springfield .45 caliber handgun, (b) a DEA T-shirt, (c) green and white lights, (d) an identification card purportedly issued by the DEA, and (e) a gold and blue badge engraved with the letters “US” that is alleged to have been manufactured by Master-Equipment.
In connection with its investigation, the FBI conducted two undercover operations. In May 2015, a FBI undercover agent, posing as an ordinary U.S. civilian, ordered a FBI badge from Master-Equipment via its website. In June 2015, Master-Equipment mailed the undercover agent a badge engraved with the words “Federal Bureau of Investigation – Department of Justice” and embossed with the letters “U.S.” The fake FBI badge sent by Master-Equipment was realistic and virtually identical to a genuine FBI badge (although it was slightly larger). In July 2015, a FBI undercover agent, posing as an ordinary U.S. citizen, ordered a FBI badge from Master-Equipment via its website. In July 2015, Master-Equipment mailed the undercover agent a badge engraved with the words “Federal Bureau of Investigation – Department of Justice” and embossed with the letters “US” The second fake FBI badge sent by Master-Equipment is realistic and virtually identical to a genuine FBI badge.
On April 23, 2015, a grand jury charged Daniel Harbison, 40, of Dunwoody, Georgia, with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Harbison pleaded guilty to that charge on June 9, 2015. On August 27, 2015, Harbison was sentenced to serve one year, nine months in prison.
On September 10, 2015, Master-Equipment was charged in a six-count criminal complaint with smuggling goods into the United States, trafficking in counterfeit goods, and manufacturing and selling fake federal law enforcement badges. In connection with the criminal complaint, the FBI seized the website (www.badge-police.com) that Master-Equipment used to sell its fake badges.
Members of the public are reminded that the criminal complaint only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Sanders, and Assistant U.S. Attorney G. Jeffrey Viscomi are prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.