ST. GEORGE – Homeland Security Investigators, with the assistance of St. George Police Department officers and one Washington County Sheriff’s deputy, took three individuals into custody this morning in an ongoing counterfeit merchandise investigation.
The three were detained in an operation that took place in the parking lot of Wal-Mart in Washington, were interviewed and subsequently released.
The investigation and the operation this morning has nothing to do with Wal-Mart, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations Resident Agent-in-Charge Mark Cutchen said. It was simply the meeting location that was set up between Homeland Security investigators and the suspects.
The instant operation and investigation has to do with counterfeit merchandise smuggled into the United States, Cutchen said, although he was unwilling to be more specific as to its character in light of its ongoing status.
“The vast majority of counterfeit merchandise is introduced into the U.S. – from car batteries to pharmaceuticals – is smuggled into the U.S. illegally.”
While people commonly think of purses and the like being counterfeited, Cutchen said anything can be counterfeited, even firearms parts.
“It’s more of a public safety item that we place a priority on,” Cutchen said, “things that are going to perhaps injure you or kill you is where our priorities are.”
Additionally, Cutchen said, Homeland Security Investigation places high priority upon intellectual property rights-related investigations because “it has been discovered that proceeds from the sale of counterfeit goods have been traced to organized crime and terrorist organizations. … These ties are a strong reason we take these investigations so seriously.”
Not unlike drug trafficking, Cutchen said that if the criminals are attempting to traffic, to sell those items, Homeland Security is after their suppliers.
While property rights investigations are usually fairly short and Hutchens said this one will probably be over in a couple months, sometimes they do roll for a year or maybe two.
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