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LA Vendor Indicted For Allegedly Selling Lead-Tainted Counterfeit Handbags

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(courtesy with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

(courtesy with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A vendor who operates two booths that sell designer handbags, jewelry and other accessories in the downtown Los Angeles fashion district faced arraignment in federal court on Friday following her indictment for trafficking in counterfeit goods.

Leticia Nunez, 38, of Los Angeles, was taken in to custody Thursday by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) based upon an indictment handed down April 18.

The indictment prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California charges Nunez with two counts of trafficking in counterfeit goods.

If convicted on both counts, Nunez faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Earlier this month, HSI special agents and detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department executed federal search warrants at Nunez’s two business locations and at a storage facility she rents nearby.

During the searches, agents seized a variety of merchandise, including jewelry bearing counterfeit trademarks for Chanel, Tiffany & Co., Juicy Couture, Dior, Bvlgari, Tag Heuer and Cartier.

Agents say the seized items represent an estimated loss in revenue to the legitimate trademark holders of more than $130,000.

“Despite what some people think, the sale of product knockoffs is not a victimless crime,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “Product counterfeiting undermines the U.S. economy, robs Americans of jobs, stifles American innovation and promotes other types of crime.”

Previously, HSI special agents had made undercover buys at Nunez’s businesses on two occasions in November and December of last year. Those purchases included more than 80 pieces of jewelry bearing counterfeit trademarks for Tiffany & Co. and Chanel.

Suspicions about Nunez’s businesses first arose as a result of an earlier investigation targeting a Lake Forest couple suspected of trafficking in counterfeit goods.

Julieta Luft, 44, and Renel Dizon, 53, were charged in March in a criminal information with one count each of trafficking in counterfeit goods. The pair pleaded guilty to the charges Thursday.

Dizon’s plea agreement specifically states the Luft received some of the counterfeit merchandise she sold from “L.N.,” whom investigators allege was Leticia Nunez.

In August 2011, HSI special agents executed federal search warrants at two Orange County residences and a storage trailer linked to the couple. The enforcement actions resulted in the seizure of more than 800 items, including handbags, watches, clothing and jewelry bearing counterfeit trademarks for designer brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Coach, Fendi, Rolex, Prada and Burberry.

Subsequent testing revealed some of the seized jewelry contained hazardous levels of lead.

Investigators say had the items been genuine, they would have had a retail value of more than $400,000.

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