Cell Phony: Counterfeiters Arrested

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Locals sold fraudulent Apple, Samsung devices

Gurcharan Luthra
Sumesh Pasricha

A joint investigation by the Nassau County Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection resulted in the arrest of two Wantagh men for counterfeiting last week. A four-month-long effort saw detectives target inbound shipments from China to JFK Airport that were being delivered to a residence on Poulson Street in Wantagh as well as to AMS World on Wantagh Avenue. It was subsequently discovered that the shipments contained repaired Apple and Samsung phones that used counterfeit parts.

“You’re looking at these phones that look real…We call them Frankenstein phones,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said at a press conference last week, held inside the Levittown Fire Department. “These phones come through our border, through the airport, end up here in Nassau County and in our backyard of Wantagh.”

To an unsuspecting observer, the phones may look real. but each contained counterfeit parts that could potentially harm consumers.

At the press conference, the faux products, many of which came in counterfeit packaging that could pass reasonably for Apple and Samsung boxes (complete with fake labels and serial numbers), were laid out across a wide table, along with the approximately $1.1 million seized by officials in the investigation. According to detectives, defendants Gurcharan Luthra, 37, of Wantagh, and Sumesh Pasricha, 48, of Wantagh, were repairing the phones using counterfeit parts, repackaging them and selling them as new. Sales were conducted from the Poulson Street house and the AMS World warehouse, as well as on a Facebook page. Besides the money the defendants earned, three vehicles, described by Ryder as “substitute proceeds from the crime,” were also seized—a 2016 Mercedes, a 2015 Toyota Sienna and a 2015 Toyota Highlander.

Police seized approximately $1.1 million from the defendants.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran cited the defendants’ actions as hurting “local businesses who play by the rules and pay property taxes. It also erodes public trust.” But according to Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, deception is only one layer of the crime at hand.

“This is a bigger problem than a billion-dollar company losing revenue,” said Singas, who revealed that it took several experts from Apple, Samsung and U.S. Federal Authorities to spot the fakes. “On top of that, it boils down to safety, because safety procedures are not being followed when these fake items are being made. They are not the same standards.”

“The counterfeit parts that go into it can have batteries go on fire…poisonous stuff that is in [the phone] could end up in your child’s hand,” Ryder added. “If you have a phone and you’re not sure, if you didn’t buy it from an authorized dealer, you should take it back and make sure that the phone you bought is a proper phone, to keep your kids safe.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (center) spoke of the negative impacts the defendants’ scheme had on consumers and local businesses. (Photo by Joseph Catrone)

Ryder further elaborated, “You know the price of your iPhone, you know what you’re paying for your kid and then you go and get it at half the price at this location, you know what you’re buying—it’s garbage.”

Luthra is being charged with two counts of second-degree counterfeiting. Pasricha is charged with second-degree counterfeiting and fifth-degree conspiracy. Both were arraigned n First District Court in Hempstead last week.

“Thanks to a very strong collaboration between our police department, the district attorney’s office and our federal partners in Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol, a family business of counterfeiters is being held accountable, and consumers can gain a little more trust that they’re not being bamboozled,” Curran said.

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