Counterfeiters of NFL merchandise selling their fake wares outside Ralph Wilson Stadium took a beating this season with Orchard Park police and federal authorities making a number of arrests, including another five on Sunday.
Investigators seized three cargo trailers and two trucks packed with counterfeit National Football League T-shirts and jerseys, many believed to be manufactured in China. They also seized more than $5,000 in U.S. and Canadian currency when making this latest round of arrests at different sites on Abbott Road and on Erie County land at the stadium, according to Orchard Park Detective John Payne.
The probe began last summer at the start of preseason games when town officers were responding to complaints of underage drinking, marijuana use and “people in general causing trouble,” Police Chief Andrew Benz said.
“I had police officers looking to enforce quality-of-life issues from complaints that we had received from residents near the stadium. That’s when we spotted people selling merchandise without permits and obstructing traffic while selling,” Benz said. “We actually got some of the merchandise and questioned whether it was trademarked. The NFL sent an investigator to help.”
Once the garments were identified as fake, Payne said he and fellow officers began making arrests throughout the Bills’ football season, with a “final sweep” of arrests Sunday.
“We started to see a lot of these unlicensed vendors walking around the stadium parking lots selling trademark counterfeit T-shirts and jerseys out of their backpacks,” Payne said. “The T-shirts were selling for $5 and the jerseys for $30. When somebody is purchasing a jersey, which normally sells for $100, that should be a clue it’s counterfeit.”
Arrested Sunday on state charges of trademark counterfeiting were Kelly Cerrone, 44, of Buffalo; Kyle Koch, 46, of Hamburg; Ronald Shattuck, 40, of Lackawanna; and Kenneth Smith, 49, and Joshua Wyskiel, 31, both of Le Roy. Their cases are pending in Orchard Park Town Court and federal charges are expected to be lodged against them by Homeland Security Investigations personnel.
Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster, Detective Larry Brand and Officers Patrick Fitzgerald, David Bowersox and Joseph Ray all assisted in the investigation, along with the federal police.
The sale of sports-related counterfeit merchandise has recently become a risky enterprise.
In late November, an Amherst man was arrested by Niagara County sheriff’s deputies for allegedly selling counterfeit sports caps like those made by New Era Cap Co. and other manufacturers at the Town of Niagara’s Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls. More than 200 counterfeits caps with a retail value of $6,000 were confiscated.
That same month, on “Cyber Monday,” federal investigators in Buffalo shut down 15 websites allegedly selling counterfeit New Era caps and other sports merchandise. At the time, U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. pointed out that these are not victimless crimes. Not only is the company harmed, but so are its employees, he said.