Springfield Firm Pleads Guilty to Importing Thousands of Products with Counterfeit Safety Labels, Must Forfeit Lamps Worth $1.8 Million
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Springfield, Mo., company pleaded guilty in federal court today to importing thousands of lamps from its manufacturer in China bearing counterfeit safety certification labels.
GuildMaster, Inc., represented in court by company president Stephen Crowder, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to the felony offense of trafficking in goods with counterfeit marks. GuildMaster is a manufacturer and importer of furniture, lighting, accessories and wall art.
“This prosecution sends the important message that companies importing goods from overseas may not gain a competitive advantage over those that play by the rules, by cutting corners when it comes to safety or intellectual property rights,” Dickinson said.
Under the terms of today’s binding plea agreement, GuildMaster must forfeit to the government 5,585 lamps that were seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, valued at approximately $1,831,918. GuildMaster will be placed on a five-year term of probation. U. S. Customs and Border Protection will not impose penalties, but will apply the full amount of the $43,786 in cost bonds previously posted by GuildMaster to defray the government’s expenses in storing the lamps.
In December 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection discovered that lamps imported by GuildMaster bore counterfeit UL (Underwriters Laboratories) labels. UL is an independent product safety certification organization accredited for safety testing by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). For lamps meeting UL safety requirements, manufacturers are authorized to affix labels bearing the words “Portable Luminaire” and featuring the UL mark. The use of this “Portable Luminaire” label with the UL mark is the manufacturer’s representation and advertisement to the public that the lamp as a whole was certified by UL as meeting UL’s safety requirements.
Federal agents began to intercept and seize shipments of GuildMaster lamps bearing counterfeit UL labels. Between Jan. 10 and March 21, 2012 agents seized 10 shipments originating from Dongguan, China, bound for GuildMaster in Springfield. They also executed a search and seizure warrant at GuildMaster’s business office and warehouse in Springfield. The 11 seizures contained an approximate total of 5,018 lamps bearing the counterfeit “Portable Luminaire” labels with UL marks. Also, in three seizures a total of approximately 567 lamps were seized that were affixed with genuine but unauthorized “Portable Luminaire” labels bearing the UL Mark, which had been provided by UL to another company for its exclusive use and were not authorized for GuildMaster’s use.
GuildMaster was founded in Springfield in 1982. GuildMaster, which was formerly a client of UL, stopped producing its own lamps in 2005. At that time GuildMaster relocated its warehouse and closed its production facility in Springfield. Since 2005, GuildMaster has purchased lamps manufactured in China and imported them into the United States under the GuildMaster label.
GuildMaster established a Hong Kong-based trading company, Westway Enterprises Pvt. Limited, as a wholly-owned subsidiary in 2001. In May 2011, MeiHao Times Trading Co. Ltd. (located in Shenzhen, China) was established as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Westway to broker sales with Dongguan factories. This was required by Chinese law before GuildMaster could establish a mainland Chinese factory as a subsidiary.
Dongguan Yangming Hardware Crafts Limited was a manufacturer of lamps located in Dongguan City, Guangdong, China. In April 2009 GuildMaster (through Westway) began paying rent on the Dongguan factory. On Nov. 22, 2010 GuildMaster (through Westway) signed a formal three-year lease for the factory. On Oct. 11, 2011 GuildMaster (through Westway and MeiHao Times Trading Co.) purchased Dongguan Yangming Hardware Crafts Limited, including its name and export license, and operated a factory entity at that location.
According to today’s plea agreement, GuildMaster maintains that none of its agents or employees had personal knowledge that they violated U. S. laws by importing the lamps. However, GuildMaster acknowledges that the knowledge and actions of Westway employees and agents are attributed to GuildMaster because Westway was GuildMaster’s wholly-owned subsidiary. GuildMaster also acknowledges that the knowledge and actions of Dongguan employees and agents are attributed to GuildMaster because Dongguan was a wholly-owned subsidiary of MeiHao Times Trading Co. Ltd., which was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Westway.
UL certification was an important issue in the importation of electrical appliances into the United States, and Westway tracked whether each of the vendors from which it purchased lamps and components was UL certified. As of December 2009, Westway personnel knew the Dongguan factory was not UL-certified.
Before the federal seizures, GuildMaster did not inspect lamps coming from China to ascertain the authenticity of the “Portable Luminaire” certification marks placed upon the lamps. GuildMaster acknowledges that had it inspected the lamps it would have seen counterfeit and unauthorized UL marks.This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven M. Mohlhenrich and Cynthia J. Hyde. It was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).