By the time the predawn raids were over, 24 people were rounded up and charged, each one accused of taking part in a multimillion-dollar counterfeit sneaker ring stretching from China to Buffalo.
Five years later, one of the 24 rolled the dice and went to trial, well aware that each of his co-defendants had been convicted.
A federal court jury helped Greg Smiley beat the odds Thursday by finding him not guilty.
“He’s very happy and glad to be heading home to see his family,” said David R. Addelman, Smiley’s defense lawyer.
In understanding why Smiley went to trial – and ultimately got off – while 23 others did not, Addelman believes it is important to understand the defendants’ varying degrees of involvement in the counterfeit sneaker case.
He says Smiley was a relatively small player in the conspiracy, a network that started with manufacturers in China and stretched all the way to two New York City warehouses and ultimately to distribution points in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
“I don’t think we can read too much into it,” Addelman said of his client’s acquittal. “He was way out there in Atlanta all by himself.”
Prosecutors dismiss the notion that Smiley was anything but a major player in the conspiracy or that the case against him was weaker than against other defendants.
“We certainly felt the case was a strong one,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. “We charged 24 men and women and 23 were convicted."
As the owner of Top of the Line Fashions, a small neighborhood clothing store, Smiley stood accused of buying and selling counterfeit Nike sneakers.
From the start, he argued that, yes, he bought the sneakers but no, he had no idea they were fakes.
“The prosecution was, he must have known,” said Addelman. “And the defense was, that’s no way to convict someone.”
The jury seemed to agree even though the prosecution, eager to prove Smiley knew what he was buying, played taped recordings of his conversations with one of the alleged ring leaders, Malik Bazzi.
“He’ll tell you how the whole operation ran,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Rogowski said of Bazzi early on in the trial. “He’ll tell you how he found suppliers. He’ll tell you how he found customers. And most important, he’ll tell you how he knew Greg Smiley.”
Federal agents also testified against Smiley, noting the taped conversations with Bazzi and the repeated delivery of counterfeit sneakers to Smiley’s store in Georgia.
Addelman countered by suggesting the recordings proved very little and that Smiley was nothing more than another victim of the conspiracy.