Police bust alleged counterfeit sports clothing operation

December 23, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Thousands of sweatshirts, T-shirts, jerseys and hats embroidered with counterfeit logos of the Chicago Bears, Blackhawks and other popular brand were seized, making it the largest seizure of its kind by the Cook County Sheriff's vice unit in recent years, officials said.

Joseph Kim, 27, of Riverwoods, is charged with possession of more than 2,000 counterfeit items and manufacturing counterfeit items, both felonies.

More than $650,000 in counterfeit merchandise and $400,000 in equipment was seized by police this week, officials said. Investigators said they found most of the counterfeit apparel boxed and ready to be shipped from Kim's headquarters on the 4500-block of West Fillmore Street in Chicago.

In the three-story warehouse Kim operated, police said they seized eight embroidery machines, valued at around $50,000 each. Also seized were more than 10,000 items of counterfeit clothing -- more than half of which had Chicago Bears and other NFL logos on them.

Also among the counterfeit stash were more than 1,000 fraudulent Fox Racing items and hundreds more pieces of merchandise with Harley Davidson, Hurley, Tapout and Nike logos, among others, affixed to them, police said.

When the warehouse was raided on Monday, eight employees were mass-producing near-replica Bears logos onto cheap winter hats, officials said.

Police said they began investigating Kim in October, after receiving information about hundreds of fraudulent T-shirts being sold at a major out-of-state flea market. Officers were able to determine the items were being produced by "Joe Kim Embroidery," based in Chicago. Undercover officers then arranged to make multiple purchases of counterfeit merchandise directly from Kim, police said.

Kim owns a legitimate logo and embroidery business -- Asian American Industrial Alliance -- and used that as cover for his illegal operation, investigators learned. AAIA holds several legitimate public and private contracts for printing services, but the vast majority of his business was dedicated to counterfeit operations, as he sold sweatshirts for $8 to $12 each, police said. Legitimate versions normally retail for around $50 each.

Kim reportedly told investigators he could embroider nearly any trademark requested, and among the items confiscated were computer discs with countless professional and college athletic logos, as well as major clothing brands.

After he was taken into custody, Kim admitted to investigators that he sold counterfeit items, but claimed most had already been produced and were left over from when his father ran the embroidery business before him, officials said. Kim's father was arrested more than 10 years ago in an unrelated Sheriff's investigation into counterfeit merchandising.

During a court hearing on Wednesday, Kim's bond was set at $25,000. He posted the required 10-percent of that amount and will remain free while awaiting trial. His next court date is set for Tuesday.

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