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In the bag: Suspect pleads guilty to trafficking counterfeit goods.
A St. Louis woman is facing a two-year prison sentence and must forfeit her 2012 Porsche Cayenne and 2010 Chevy Camaro to the federal government after pleading guilty yesterday to a handbag scam that netted her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Federal prosecutors say that 34-year-old Jeannine Buford orchestrated an online business from her St. Louis home selling counterfeit Hermés handbags manufactured in China to customers who thought they were purchasing the high-end, French-made purses.
Buford sold the bags for thousands of dollars on sites such as deluxemall.com and houseofhermes.blogspot.com with one customer paying as much as $100,000 for bags, according to the FBI. Nearly 100 people purchased knockoff purses from Buford from early 2006 to 2011. In one thirteen-month stretch from March 2010 to April 2011, Buford allegedly collected more than $500,000 in sales from her fraudulent venture. Federal investigators closed in last year after a victim alerted the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.IC3.gov). The FBI later made its own purchase of a fake handbag from Buford.
Yesterday, U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan suggested that it is criminal to pay thousands of dollars for a purse regardless of whether it's a fake, but that Buford's fraud warranted action.
"While I am not smart enough to understand why someone pays $15,000 for a handbag, I definitely understand that women's purses, like shoes, are not something to be trifled with," said Callahan in a statement.
In addition to giving up her sports cars, Buford -- who also goes by the name Chloe Qualemberg -- forfeited over $5,738 cash and more than 100 designer handbags. She'll be sentenced in September and could face 30 to 37 months in prison for admitting her role in trafficking counterfeit goods.
Buford reportedly had a partner in crime in the handbag scam, a St. Louis woman named Danielle Burnett-Famous who was murdered last September by her estranged husband
in an unrelated incident. Authorities are asking anyone who may have purchased a counterfeit handbag from Burford or Burnett-Famous to contact the FBI at 314-589-2500.