Crime

Store Owners Illegally Import Lead-Tainted Counterfeit Costume Jewelery, Plead Guilty

By Edwin Folven, 6/24/2010

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The owners of a downtown Los Angeles jewelry store pleaded guilty to federal charges on June 21 that they illegally imported and sold counterfeit designer costume jewelry, some of which tested positive for hazardous levels of lead.

Three defendants included Il Keun Oh, 57, and his wife Jacqueline Oh, 55, the owners of Elegance Fashion Mart on East Olympic Blvd. Also charged was Jacqueline Oh’s brother, Joon Yeop Kim, 47, a manager at the store.

The three pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of introducing and delivering a hazardous substance. They face a maximum penalty of more than five years in prison, and are scheduled to be sentenced on October 18.

The hazardous substance charge was lodged after lab tests showed some of the counterfeit jewelry contained nearly 20 times the amount of lead deemed safe by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for handling by children. The items had been labeled as “lead free.”

“To people who think designer knockoffs are a harmless way to beat the system and get a great deal, buyer beware,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Los Angeles. “Part of what you’re paying for when you buy established brands, regardless of the product, is quality control. As this case shows, when you purchase counterfeit items, you can easily get something you hadn’t bargained for, something that could put you and those around you at risk.”

The pleas were the culmination of an ICE investigation that began in 2007 when the agency received a tip that the Oh’s jewelry store, which operated as both a retail and wholesale business, was selling counterfeit designer merchandise.

During the course of the investigation, ICE agents seized more than 25,000 counterfeit pieces of jewelry and accessories including necklaces, rings, bracelets, watches, hair ornaments and cellular phone charms.

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