A Thomasville, GA, business owner accused of trafficking counterfeit car parts made in China pleaded guilty March 29 to the crime, Middle District of Georgia U.S. Attorney Charles Peeler said.
Drexel C. Benton, 71, of Thomasville, entered a guilty plea for trafficking in counterfeit goods before Senior U.S. District Judge Hugh Lawson in Macon. This charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a $2 million maximum fine and up to three years’ supervised release. A sentencing date has not been set.
“Legitimate businesses work hard and invest significant resources to build a brand. Those who choose to deal in counterfeit goods are stealing the brand recognition and goodwill that businesses work so hard to develop,” Peeler said. “This office has made it a priority to protect businesses and consumers from counterfeit goods, whether from China or anywhere else in the world.
“I want to thank the investigative efforts of the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Customs and Border Protection for helping close down this illegal operation.”
Background information in the signed plea agreement said that in January of 2017, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigative Division began an investigation on leads showing the defendant was importing and selling counterfeit car parts from Chinese manufacturers at his Thomasville business, EZ Dealin, as well as on Ebay, where EZ Dealin was listed as a tire and rim “power seller” with a 20,000-square-foot warehouse selling replica car parts from American car companies.
Court officials said EZ Dealin had more than 7,000 positive feedbacks on Ebay, indicating thousands of transactions. HSI conducted an undercover operation at EZ Dealin in February of 2017, noting a much smaller warehouse than advertised---an estimated 24-feet-long by 24-feet-wide---filled to a quarter of its capacity with numerous brand wheels and tires. An employee showed the agents two types of GMC wheels with center caps displaying the GMC emblem.
Concurrently, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers conducted three separate legal seizures of parcels from China to EZ Dealin from November of 2016 to April of 2017. The individual parcels contained 540 automotive wheel center caps with counterfeit GMC and Chevrolet emblems, 560 automotive wheel center caps with counterfeit GMC and Chevrolet emblems and 300 automotive rim center caps with counterfeit Chevrolet and Cadillac emblems.