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A manufacturer of high-end women’s skin care and beauty products developed a loyal following over the past decade. The dermatologist that created the products had become well known to millions, presenting her products on a popular television network. A few years ago, for no obvious reason, sales dropped off considerably. The head of brand protection for the manufacturer expressed how the growth and success depends upon honest, valued products meeting the expectations of customers on a continuing basis. Moreover, he explained, that if that promise is broken, the brand suffers.
“After running multiple leads and conducting buy-and-bust investigations throughout five states, we secured the identity of the alleged master supplier of the goods,” explains Stephen Ward, Vice President of East Coast, USA for Pinkerton. “This family gang is well known in the industry as the cosmetics mafia.” Pinkerton’s Intellectual Property and Brand Protection team conducted an in-depth 12-month investigation, encompassing hidden surveillance and exploring databases for clues and evidence of the counterfeiting operation. “While conducting surveillance, we found that the targets worked under the radar from an estate in an upscale Long Island neighborhood,” says Ward. “Pinkerton agents led a team of U.S. Marshals to hit the targets’ home.”
Pinkerton discovered that gray market, counterfeit, and stolen products were flooding the market, adding up to a 30% drop in business. The location warehoused thousands of products and functioned as a manufacturing center and laboratory. Young, female, illegal immigrants mixed and created fake brand name cosmetic products. The suspects had thousands of bottles and packages made to resemble original and authentic branded products. In addition to the 15,000-plus manufacturer’s items, products secured were from other major cosmetic, clothing, and beauty lines, with a street value of $60,000 to $180,000. The seizure included five desktop computers, three laptops, two external storage devices, and five cell phones.
The FDA advised of their plans to charge the family gang under the 2005 FDA Cosmetics Act and money laundering. The home was seized by the United States government and Pinkerton worked with the government and many of the brand owners, assisting with the launch of a joint criminal and civil action spanning 14 states. “We were successful with the raid because we began with careful, selective intelligence, combined with a legal and tactical strategy,” notes Ward. “Followed by forensics of seized computers, paperwork, vehicles and the counterfeit goods themselves, a range of remedies will be employed to put an end to their counterfeiting and theft.”