Officials say $44M in fake sports gear seized over past year

As the Super Bowl approaches, officials said Wednesday more than 169,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth $44 million were seized in the past year.

The effort, known as Operation Team Player, begins at the end of each Super Bowl and continues through the next. It’s overseen by a unit of Homeland Security Investigations, part of the Homeland Security Department.

Officials appeared at a news conference Wednesday with dozens of counterfeit NFL jerseys and hats, fake Super Bowl rings and numerous other sports items.

Steve Francis, director of HSI’s intellectual property rights center, said in addition to fans being scammed with inferior merchandise the money is often used to finance other illegal activity.

“Make no mistake, intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime,” Francis said. “Our efforts here in Tampa will continue.”

Much of the effort leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl in Tampa has focused on flea markets, street vendors and retail outlets selling the fake goods.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Tampa Police Department also are involved in the investigations. Officials say people should take care where and how they buy team merchandise and look for the proper logos and other markings.

“We’re prepared and ready to prosecute anyone who commits this crime in the city of Tampa,” said Police Chief Brian Dugan.