NEW HYDE PARK — Where's the money going?
That's what federal agents who raided a storage unit on South 3rd Street in New Hyde Park wanted to know recently, when they seized $25 million dollars worth of counterfeit Rolexes, Louis Vuitton belts, and luxury handbags on December 26, a day after Christmas.
Charles Lau, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York, said buying counterfeit Burberry and Gucci is not a victimless crime.
"It's funding a transnational criminal organization," Lau pointed out. "You're funding something that's very likely not good and not good for us."
Nassau County police and officers from the port of JFK were part of the team that also executed search warrants at a home on Willis Avenue in Floral Park, where Mahmood Nasir and his two sons were arrested for alleged involvement in the counterfeiting scheme.
"There's a lot of people in there," one neighbor said of the house where the Nasir's lived. "There's a lot of people in that house coming in and out."
The three men had received e-visas (entrepreneurial visas) from the United States in 2010, allowing them to leave their native Pakistan for business opportunities in New York. But Mahmood Nasir was in trouble by 2012, busted in Manhattan on allegations he was selling high-end, counterfeit items through his Broadway Watch Outlet.
The charges were eventually dismissed, and Homeland Security said it received information in 2017 that Nasir was at it again, selling fake watches and bags to flea market vendors from a location in Nassau County. The phony goods were coming from China.
"We know the shipper, the consignee," Frank Russo, port director for John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, told PIX11. "If a company has been trading counterfeit goods, then we know about it."
The concern for law enforcement is not just a loss of tax revenue or even jobs.
The concern is what the millions in profits may be used for.
The NYPD and federal agents have long followed the trail from storage units to illegal products put on bodega shelves, everything from untaxed cigarettes to dried plant material that was waiting to be sprayed with chemicals that would transform the stuff to K2, a dangerous drug.
In one cigarette smuggling ring that was storing its cartons in Bronx units, agents said the profits were wired overseas to the Middle East and Africa.
Millions of K2 profits went to Yemen, a known training ground for terrorists.
Investigators are still connecting the dots in the Nasir case, not sure who was benefitting from the millions generated.
Federal officials are well aware that counterfeit goods have been used in other cases to fund acts of terrorism. The brutal 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris was funded with money from counterfeit items sold on the streets of France's capital city.
Charles Lau wanted to reinforce the importance of not buying fake goods.
"That 'steal' you see is not a good deal," Lau said.