Inside a counterfeit Super Bowl merch bust

by: Sean Noone, Nancy Loo

Posted: Feb 12, 2022 / 10:53 AM CSTUpdated: Feb 12, 2022 / 10:53 AM CST

LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — A crackdown on counterfeit goods is part of law enforcement’s plan for every Super Bowl. This year, with a bigger host city, it’s a much bigger job than usual.

Randall Hill knows which merchandise is legitimate. The former NFL player is now a special agent for US Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI.

NewsNation joined HSI, Customs and Border Protection and the Los Angeles Police Department as agents targeted a pop-up street vendor.

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Counterfeits frequently surface right after the Super Bowl is set.

“As soon as the teams are decided, that’s when some of these vendors start ramping up with their products,” Hill said.

With the Super Bowl happening in the home city of the Los Angeles Rams, demand for fan gear is especially high.

On one operation, Intel brought NewsNation to the San Fernando Valley, where a small street stand was loaded with counterfeit Super Bowl items. Within the haul were counterfeit clothes featuring other popular franchises. Nearby, there was also a carload of counterfeits.

In a news conference, the NFL and law enforcement agencies highlighted the problem and the many ongoing operations such as what we saw in the valley.

“This year alone, we have seized over 267,000 items worth almost $97.8 million,” said HSI Executive Associate Director Steve Francis.

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Agents said operations are like whack-a-mole, with more new stands sure to pop up before Sunday’s game.

In the San Fernando Valley case, about $10,000 worth of illegal items were hauled away and the vendor was warned; suppliers and the money trail are the bigger targets.

“Well, we don’t know what it’s going to fund,” Hill said. “We don’t know if it’s funding violent street gangs, we don’t know if it’s funding international street gangs, we don’t know where it’s coming from … different countries, countries of interest to the US”

The counterfeiting problem is so widespread, officials estimate confiscations likely bring in less than 5% of the total.

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