According to the indictment, between September 2005 and February 2009, Frango, of University City, sold counterfeit goods at both store locations, including goods bearing the trademarks of Nike, as well as numerous other clothing companies.

In September 2005, a representative of several clothing manufacturers learned that Frango was selling knockoff Nike brand shoes at West African Art. The representative provided a cease-and-desist notice to Frango and his business. However, Frango, 51, did not stop selling counterfeit goods, and further investigation revealed that he was also selling them at F & A Fashions location.

In March 2008, based on information that the West African Art continued to sell counterfeit items, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police obtained a search warrant and discovered a semitrailer loaded with fakes. 

Among the loot seized from the businesses were items bearing the marks of numerous manufacturers, including Apple Bottoms, Polo Ralph Lauren, Coach, True Religion, Timberland, Baby Phat, Rocawear and many others. The total infringement value of the seized goods exceeds $1 million.

Owing to the volume of contraband goods, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement became involved. Subsequent investigation revealed that Frango had multiple Missouri identification cards, as well as bank accounts, under different names. Their investigation led to the seizure of two more trailer loads of counterfeit goods.

"Counterfeiting is not a victimless crime, and this type of activity should concern every American," says James Ward, agent-in-charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in St. Louis. "Counterfeit goods cost U.S. industries billions of dollars in losses each year, and the illicit proceeds often facilitate organized crime. ICE is committed to investigating and dismantling those organizations that deal in counterfeit goods."

Frango pleaded guilty to one felony count of trafficking in counterfeit goods before United States District Judge Charles A. Shaw, and now faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and/or fines up to $2 million, when he is sentenced August 4, 2009. —Chad Garrison

Newspapers Plot Ways To Survive
Details are beginning to emerge from the hush-hush meeting we told you about last month involving some of the nation's biggest newspaper publishers — including Lee Enterprises, owner of the Post-Dispatch.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that the newspaper honchos brought with them to Chicago an antitrust attorney, just to make sure they wouldn't run afoul of collusion laws as they discussed ways to save their beleaguered industry.

One idea discussed at length would be a system by which newspapers could collect blanket fees from websites that republish their stories. The concept is modeled after a similar arrangement in the music industry in which agencies such as ASCAP and BMI collect royalties for songwriters for the public airing of their songs — be it on the radio or at the corner tavern.

Notes the Journal:

The news industry's versions of radio stations and nightclubs are the Web sites that rerun stories, or big chunks of them, copied from newspaper sites. What portals like Google do — run headlines and snippets of stories — so far has been immune to copyright claims, though the argument has been made successfully in Europe that even that type of reuse entitles publishers to a fee. Some publishers hope to make the same case in the U.S.

One caveat, adds the paper, is that the courts have upheld ASCAP and BMI because the individual artist has no way of tracking down the use of his or her music in every jukebox and radio station in the world. Copy-and-pasted news articles, however, are much easier to search out on the Internet, perhaps negating the need for a third-party company such as ASCAP to collect fees on behalf of newspaper publishers. Still, the possibility exists that these intermediary fee collectors might help save the newspaper business and be perfectly legal under the law. "My guess is it would go just fine in front of the courts," Herbert Hovenkamp, a law professor at the University of Iowa, tells the Journal.
—Chad Garrison

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