Natchez not immune to counterfeit schemes, products, investigators say

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 23, 2001

Officials estimate that more than $1 billion dollars are lost each year from the sale of counterfeit products.

And Natchez is not immune to the problem as local investigators continue to discover.

This month, the Natchez Police Department arrested two Miss-Lou residents on charges of selling fake items passed off as name brand clothing, compact discs, watches, shoes, hats or sunglasses.

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&uot;It causes a loss to the businesses that are selling (legitimate items). It causes a loss to the manufacturers,&uot; said Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff. &uot;This is as serious to the economy as counterfeit money.&uot;

Officers arrested Calvin McNnight, 30, of 114 Louisiana St. and the owner of Uptown Fashions, on Wednesday. He was arrested on the felony charge of sale or distribution of recordings without display of required information.

&uot;His arrest was a result of an investigation into the sale of counterfeit clothing and pirated CDs at his store located at No. 5 East Franklin Street,&uot; Huff said.

The Natchez Police Department has dealt with similar cases in past years but began the recent investigation about two weeks ago, Huff said

&uot;We had received complaints from area businesses that felt the clothes and other items in the store … (were) counterfeit,&uot; Huff said.

As part of the operation, police seized 58 compact discs at the store. They are being examined by the Recording Industry Association of America and may have been produced locally, Huff said.

They also seized a number of fake articles of clothing such as shirts and pants with name brand logos.

Some other seized products, such as shoes and hats, sported generic names but had designs or logos similar to that of name brand products.

Often these items are not only incorrectly marked but also substandard. For example, lenses on fake sunglasses are often marked to have UVA protection when they actually do not, officials said.

&uot;People think they’re getting a good deal when they’re actually getting nothing,&uot; said Gary Nations, an investigator with the Natchez Police Department.

The investigation also led to the arrest of Sandra Gale Tiffee, 43, of 673 Poole Road, of Monterey, La., on the misdemeanor charge of sale of counterfeit goods.

Officers conducted an undercover operation after receiving complaints that Tiffee was selling counterfeit sunglasses and watches out of her car at the Magnolia Mall parking lot, Huff said. She is otherwise unemployed.

Between the two seizures, officials estimate they seized up to $10,000 in fake products, Huff said.

Not only does the practice rob legitimate merchants it also confuses the consumer, Huff said.

&uot;It’s hard for the public to determine if it’s counterfeit or not unless they know the manufacturers’ marks very well,&uot; Huff said.

Signs of counterfeit merchandise include watches and sunglasses without boxes or warranty information. Another giveaway is contradictory labeling such as products marked &uot;Made in the USA&uot; on one tag but marked as being made in a foreign country on another tag, the investigators said.

Detective Tom Grennell, even found a pair of fake sunglasses among the items that were marked &uot;make in the USA.&uot;

He thinks hardworking citizens should not be swindled when they go shopping.

&uot;They should be able to purchase what they intended to get,&uot; Grennell said.

Tiffee pleaded guilty to her charge and was fined $434 and received a suspended 30 day jail sentence.

McKnight was released from jail on a $5,000 bond and has a preliminary hearing on July 19 in Natchez Municipal Court.