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NFL, police target counterfeit Super Bowl merchandise

TAMPA — Authorities accused a felon Wednesday of putting an estimated $500,000 worth of counterfeit Super Bowl and athletic merchandise up for sale at his flea market shop.

Junior Raphael Prentice, 38, of Tampa watched in handcuffs as Tampa police officers and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents packed up imitation jerseys, hats and Nikes into evidence boxes inside the bright orange International Flea Market at 11309 N Nebraska Ave.

"We hit the mother lode," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

The sting was part of a joint investigation with NFL Security that is aggressively targeting counterfeit products, officials said. Prentice's was the first arrest. He faces one count of distributing goods with counterfeit trademarks, and additional charges are pending.

Prentice, who has served prison time for drug trafficking and possession charges, refused to speak to police or reporters. A sign hanging outside his stall said "Clearance," but the clearing out that took place Wednesday surely wasn't what he intended.

His products included Steelers and Cardinals jerseys, plus goods for other teams, police Sgt. Bill Todd said.

Prentice would not allow a search of his other rented stall, Fitted Up Fashions, which authorities believed contained more counterfeit goods. They were seeking a search warrant to get behind the blue tarp that covered the stall Wednesday.

Fred Chow, supervisory special agent for ICE in Tampa, said counterfeit goods usually bear telling signs such as sloppy stitching, distorted colors and cheap material. The goods Prentice was accused of selling were manufactured in China.

Tampa resident Eric Carter, 36, said he bought three pairs of Air Jordans from Prentice two weeks ago for $55 each. He started to suspect their authenticity when the logos fell off and the glue came undone. He returned the shoes but had not yet gotten his money back, he said.

He commended law enforcement for the crackdown, particularly in the low-income area.

"I thought I was getting a deal," he said, "and then I got ripped off."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

How can you spot counterfeit goods? Officials say to look for misspelled words on clothing, distorted team colors and sloppy stitching. Also, each authentic NFL jersey comes with a unique serial number on its shirt tag. If you don't see a number, or the same number is repeated on multiple jerseys, you've got a fake.

fast facts

Spot counterfeits

How can you spot counterfeit goods? Officials say to look for misspelled words on clothing, distorted team colors and sloppy stitching. Also, each authentic NFL jersey comes with a unique serial number on its shirt tag. If you don't see a number, or the number is repeated on multiple jerseys, you've got a fake.

NFL, police target counterfeit Super Bowl merchandise 01/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 9:16pm]
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