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You don't need to be a sneaker head to know the value of Air Jordans. Since their release 1984, annual releases of Nike's signature product are anxiously awaited, and some editions of the shoe can cost thousands of dollars on the secondary market. And if you can fool someone into thinking some fake Air Jordans are some real Air Jordans, you're making that profit instead of Nike.
You're also breaking the law. Federal prosecutors are claiming five New Yorkers -- Miyuki Suen, Jian Min Huang, Songhua Qu, Kin Lui Chen, and Fangrang Qu -- were part of an international counterfeit ring putting hundreds of thousands of fake Air Jordans on the street, and tens of millions of dollars in their pockets.
From Generic to Counterfeit
According to the federal charges (one count each of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and trafficking in counterfeit goods), the scheme was fairly complex:
[T]he Counterfeit Sneaker Ring imports containers filled with sneakers manufactured in China. These sneakers are produced to resemble Air Jordan sneakers in design and color, but, significantly, are "generic." That is, these sneakers are imported into the United States without the inclusion of logos that are trademarks registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Once the Generic Air Jordans arrive in the United States, they are altered within the New York area to add trademarked logos to the shoes. Once this alteration takes place, the shoes are considered "counterfeit." Thus, the Counterfeit Sneaker Ring arranges for the importation of Generic Air Jordans, the addition of USPTO-trademarked logos and marks to Generic Air Jordans to make them Counterfeit Air Jordans within the United States at a significant profit.
Fake Shoes to Real Money
That profit must've been enormous -- the shoes, if real, would've been worth $73 million, according to reports. Prosecutors claim the five men imported at least 42 shipping containers holding an estimated more than 380,000 pairs of sneakers. The counterfeiting crew now face a maximum of 20 years in prison.