PThe United States Department of Justice has announced that Jianhua “Jeff” Li, a 43-year-old Chinese national living in the United States on a student visa, has pleaded guilty to being part of a counterfeit ring involving fake Apple products.
The case is part of a joint operation between the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. The investigation has been ongoing since 2015, when Li was first arrested.
Starting in 2009, Li and his compatriots, Andreina Becerra, Roberto Volpe, and Rosario LaMarca, helped smuggle more than 40,000 counterfeit products, including fake iPhones and iPads into the U.S. In addition, the smuggling operation also included forged documents pertaining to Apple logos and trademarks. Li is estimated to have earned about $1.1 million from the sales of the fake products to customers who thought they were purchasing legitimate Apple hardware.
The Verge reports that the bank accounts relating to Li’s operation were based out of New Jersey and Florida. From there, Li would transfer the money to an account Italy. Then it would be sent to multiple accounts across the globe as a way of protecting the smuggling operation.
The size of the operation remains difficult to estimate. While it is known that Li received more than $1 million in revenue from the illicit sales, it is not certain how much his associates earned. Nor how much, if any, of the money went to Li’s family in China. Investigators are currently trying to determine whether or not this operation had any ties to the large-scale counterfeit rings that operate in China. The high demand and high price of Apple’s products means that they are a profitable market for Chinese counterfeiters.
Li was charged with, and pleaded guilty, to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and labels and to smuggle goods into the U.S., and one count of trafficking in counterfeit goods. Li’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for May. However, LaMarca was sentenced last July to 37 months in prison. The other members of the smuggling operation are still awaiting sentencing.
Given Li’s status as a Chinese citizen, it is possible that he will be deported upon the completion of his sentence.