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A Tampa T-shirt vendor is found not guilty of trying to sell counterfeit Tampa Bay Rays' shirts at World Series

LARGO — Billy Castro let out a long sigh of relief Wednesday evening as a jury found him not guilty of trying to sell $5 counterfeit Tampa Bay Rays T-shirts during last year's World Series.

"I'm pretty emotional about the whole thing right now," Castro said after the jury cleared him of the misdemeanor charge.

It was a case that pitted Major League Baseball against a guy with a dozen T-shirts in a duffel bag. And it went down in a criminal courtroom, not in a civil trial.

The case began in October, on the night of the Rays' first World Series game. Castro, 35, said he showed up downtown with friends to soak in the atmosphere of a city that was exulting in its first Fall Classic.

Castro, who owns a clothing line called "As I B" that he sells online and through a Tampa store, said he printed the T-shirts for friends. He denied selling them.

But St. Petersburg police Detective Randy Adams testified that Castro offered to sell her T-shirts for $5 each. Debbie Brooks, who handles merchandise for the Rays, testified that the design on his T-shirt was a Rays trademarked logo. The logo, called the sunburst or starburst, looks like a sparkle of sunlight.

Castro, 35, a St. Petersburg resident whose full name is Abilio Castro Faria, took the witness stand and denied trying to steal the Rays logo. "I didn't want anything like this to happen," he said.

Castro said the star on his T-shirts was a modification of a star that he uses for his own clothing line, and had trademarked in 2004. He said he first developed his star logo before the Rays were using one, to reflect his philosophy that everyone is a star, and that people should "share star power."

Assistant State Attorney Scott Vieth put up a poster-sized copy of the the Rays' trademarked logo, and compared it to one of Castro's shirts. He told jurors that the Rays' star and Castro's star both have seven points, with the same lengths and angles.

"This design is not only similar to that, it's identical," he said. "He made this shirt to look like a Rays shirt … you can't look at that and say that's not a Rays shirt."

But Assistant Public Defender Judith St. Clair said no one could think the T-shirts were official team merchandise.

"Are you going to buy this shirt for $5 and think it's authentic?" she said.

Castro said he looks forward to having the case behind him. He also intends to continue supporting local sports teams, including the Rays.

"I hope they win the World Series," he said.

Warning granted

A judge had to clarify a sports metaphor during the trial involved Billy Castro and the Tampa Bay Rays logo.

Before closing arguments began, asked the attorneys if they would like him to give them a warning when their time for closing arguments was about to expire.

Castro's attorney, Judith St. Clair, asked for a two-minute warning.

"For a football case, I'd give you a two-minute warning," the judge quipped. "There's really no two-minute warning in baseball."

But he agreed to anyway.

A Tampa T-shirt vendor is found not guilty of trying to sell counterfeit Tampa Bay Rays' shirts at World Series 07/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 17, 2009 12:26pm]
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