First last Wednesday, thanks to a tip from a private investigation firm from Pennsylvania, the police obtained a search warrant to examine Atocha Leather Goods, Inc., located on Kelly Lane off Kennedy Boulevard. They said they found nearly $2 million in alleged "knock-off" designer goods, such as purses and handbags, sold on the street as Louis Vuitton and Chanel name-brand items.
Stumar Investigators, located in Norristown, Penn., was hired by Chanel and Vuitton to find counterfeit producers of their brand name goods. The investigation led them to Atocha, police said. The investigator then posed as a prospective buyer and asked one of the owners, 52-year-old Bolivar Rodriguez of North Bergen, how he received the goods. The investigator claimed in a report to the police that Rodriguez told the investigator that they received the materials from Korea and produced the bags as if they were the name brand.
The investigator then called the police, who sent detectives, headed by Detective Edward Curry, to the site.
According to Lt. Joseph Bode, when the police arrived, they discovered 255 assembled generic handbags, as well as several thousand metal and leather Chanel tags, stickers, ornaments, buckles, metal snaps, and blank patches allegedly used to make the counterfeits.
Bode also said the police recovered 17 sewing machines, grinding machines, compressors, handbag templates, thread and company records, invoices, and telephone records.
Police then arrested 52-year-old Maria Rodriguez and charged her with violation of the New Jersey Trademark Act. Her husband, Bolivar, surrendered to authorities a day later and was charged with the same crimes.
According to Bode, the crimes are second degree crimes under the state statute and are punishable with fines of $500,000 and forfeiture of all items seized.
Bode also said that the warehouse has been shut down and placed out of business.
"It's not the first time we've had something of this magnitude in the township," Bode said. "The size and scope of product counterfeiting has skyrocketed in the last few years. The national economy is losing revenue and people are losing thousands of jobs because of operations like this one. Organized crime has become more and more involved in counterfeiting. But an arrest and seizure such as this is a significant blow to the counterfeiting trade."
Bail was set for Bolivar and Maria Rodriguez at $100,000 and they could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of the crimes. They could also face civil charges from the Chanel and Louis Vuitton companies.
Alleged prostitution ring
Also last week, Bode and his special investigation and street crime unit capped a two-week investigation by uncovering a possible prostitution ring - the third such arrest in the town in the last month.
Last Friday, Bode made an arrangement with Erotic Entertainment of Clifton under the guise of holding a bachelor party in a North Bergen hotel.
"I received a computer generated advertisement from a group specializing in the adult party entertainment industry," Bode said. "So we set up a room in the hotel, where four other undercover officers and myself were. Four females and a male arrived. The male, the driver named John, requested $850 in cash. He provided a boom box for music. The girls then went into the bathroom and came out undressed or wearing see-through clothing. When they [allegedly] made sexual advances toward the undercover officers, they were advised that they were under arrest and taken to headquarters and booked."
The male driver, John Nitti of Lyndhurst, was charged with promoting prostitution. The four women, namely Lizette Lugo, 21, of Garfield, Eileene Craparo, 21, of Waretown, Reine Tanenbaum, 32, of Jersey City, and Donna Juarez, 32, of Lyndhurst, were all charged with soliciting prostitution.
Follow up investigations produced an arrest warrant for Ron Form, the owner of Erotic Entertainment, but he has yet to be arrested.
"It's just another step toward battling prostitution in the township," Bode said. "It's an ongoing problem. But the town's position is clear. If you're operating an illegal prostitution business, we're going to shut you down. It won't be tolerated."
87 marijuana bags
According to Bode, the busy week concluded Monday. Police Officer Bronson Jusino made a routine traffic stop, when a driver was allegedly acting erratically on 73rd Street and Kennedy Boulevard.
When 21-year-old James Rogers of Ridgefield was stopped, he was asked for a driver's license, which he could not produce. A check of his record found that Rogers had an outstanding warrant for violation of probation in Bergen County.
While he was being processed for booking, police investigators uncovered that Rogers allegedly had two plastic "Ziploc" bags that contained several other little bags filled with a green, leafy substance believed to be marijuana, according to Bode.
"There were 87 little bags seized and $337 cash, which was believed to have been obtained through sales of a controlled substance," Bode said.
Bode said that Rogers was then charged with possession with intent to distribute, possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school, and two motor vehicle summonses.
Bail was set for Rogers at $5,000 and he was sent to the Hudson County Jail in Kearny, where he remains.
"This was just regular police work and it turned out to be a major bust," Bode said. "We had a very busy week."