Jim Porter

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February 27, 2014
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Jim Porter: True stories about buying fake Gucci, Lous Vuitton bags

Mountain folk are not always big on buying designer brands like Chanel, Coach, Rolex, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany. But there’s a big business in designer brands.

Today’s column discusses one such case, but first let me relate my own personal experience – now that the statute of limitations has run.

PORTER IN PARIS

My lovely bride Marianne and I were heading to Paris in 1986. A Porter Simon receptionist asked me to bring home a Louis Vuitton bag for her. Having no idea what I was getting in for, I agreed.

After spending two and a half hours in a Louis Vuitton store in Paris waiting to get served, standing in line behind rich Texans buying dozens of bags, nothing less than $300 a bag, we made the buy.

The Vuitton bag looked like cheap plastic (and was) but it was Louis Vuitton and our receptionist would be (and was) ecstatic.

A few weeks later we were in northern Italy and wouldn’t you know, dozens of Guccis and Louis Vuittons selling for $10 and $20. Perfect knockoffs. I bought all I could carry and was a hero back home.

Half the office got Louis Vuitton for Christmas. Just what they wanted.

FAKE LOUIS VUITTON

Jaqueline Duenas Sy and Vo Nghia Sy had a business selling handbags, clothing and jewelry in San Diego. They sold Chanel, Coach, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and True Religion among others. Anything you want for under $25, sometimes sold out of their store and sometimes sold under the table at trade shows.

One of the designer companies alerted authorities and a private investigator had a field day buying samples of all the products.

Shortly afterward, armed with a search warrant, officers seized over 13,000 counterfeit items and bins of metal plates engraved with fake designer logos.

COUNTERFEIT SALES

The Sys were charged with violation of Penal Code Section 350 which prohibits a person from “willfully manufacturing, intentionally selling counterfeit marks, or knowingly possessing counterfeit marks for sale.” A counterfeit mark is “spurious mark that is identical with, or confusingly similar to, a registered mark.”

Separate juries convicted each of the Sys of selling or possessing counterfeit marks. They were placed on probation with no jail time and ordered to pay the designer companies $43,000 in victim restitution.

BUT THE BUYERS KNEW

The Sys appealed their convictions with their free court-appointed lawyers, arguing that everyone they sold to knew their designer bags were fake. Not unlike when Marianne and I were scoring such good deals in northern Italy.

TRADEMARK PROTECTION

The Court of Appeal ruled against the Sys noting that Section 350 does not require a buyer to be confused or deceived but simply requires a seller to intentionally sell counterfeit marks or knowingly possess them. Easy standard to meet for the prosecutor.

The Court of Appeal also upheld the restitution order so Tiffany, Rolex, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and the others would be paid. You can count on that.

TWO-TIME LOSER

I just recalled that while traveling around Europe after law school I bought a Rolex watch in Sicily from a guy who had 50 watches inside his trench coat. Just like the movies. It was a heck of a deal.

I quickly discovered (but not soon enough) the watch lost two hours a day. No wonder, it had almost no interior parts. You get what you pay for. Or not.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or www.portersimon.com.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 27, 2014 05:19PM Published Feb 27, 2014 04:03PM Copyright 2014 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.