Massive fake health and beauty supplies ring busted
NEW YORK (CNN) — The counterfeits included everyday health and beauty items such as ChapStick, Johnson’s Baby Oil, Vaseline and Always sanitary pads.
A pair of New York brothers will appear in court Tuesday on charges of running a multimillion-dollar ring that peddled fake products distributed up and down the East Coast, authorities said.
Brothers Pardeep Malik, 59, and Hamant Mullick, 60, are accused of running an enterprise whose products also turned up in Pennsylvania and Florida, according to the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. Authorities seized more than $2 million worth of products and were looking at bank accounts to determine the size of the enterprise.
Law enforcement authorities seized four tractor-trailers filled with knockoff health products from five locations on Long Island on Thursday.
A manufacturer described the operation as the biggest known counterfeit enterprise in the United States, while another company called it the only known such manufacturing operation in the country for its products, prosecutors said.
Malik and Mullick, both charged with felony trademark counterfeiting, were being held on bond of $100,000 each, the district attorney’s office said.
The allegation that Malik was involved with his brother’s business are “outlandish,” said Malik’s attorney, Steve Christiansen.
Mullick’s attorney, Michael Brown, did not return calls seeking comment.
“Health and beauty products like lip balms, oils, shampoos and inhalers are highly regulated in order to protect consumers, but these defendants are charged with going around those protections and stealing the brands of major corporations that comply with the law,” District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in the statement. “These actions can endanger the public.”
The fake products included ChapStick, Johnson’s Baby Oil, Vicks VapoRub, Vicks Inhaler, Vaseline and Always sanitary pads; the producers of the real products include major international brands such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, prosecutors said.
Other products, including over-the-counter cold medicines and painkillers, also were recovered, officials said.
“We encourage consumers to be cautious about buying branded goods that look suspicious, or from outlets that are unfamiliar,” Chris Vuturo, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble, said in a statement.
The case came to light when Valley Stream Fire Department officials in January conducted a building inspection at the site of a fire a year earlier. Nassau County Fire Marshall officials took samples of products they found and sent them to the manufacturers, who verified the counterfeits.
Fire department officials said they found manufacturing supplies but no material safety data sheets, which normally accompany these supplies.
The brothers are accused of selling the products to distributors who, in turn, delivered them to retailers in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida. An investigation is underway to determine if there are more locations.
The prosecutor’s office is trying to determine the chemical makeup of the products and the health risks, if any, associated with them.
Authorities gave the following tips to identify fakes: Look for signs such as strange pictures on the package or strange colors or typeface. Some sophisticated knockoffs may be hard to detect, but the price may be atypically low. Counterfeits will not have the same quality or consistency of real products. Shop at established and trusted stores, which are likely to be connected to legitimate supply chains.