A 28-year-old Eagan man who allegedly imported and sold knockoff sports jerseys has been charged with selling counterfeit merchandise.
Benjamin R. Berry has been charged with two felony counts of counterfeit intellectual property valued at more than $10,000. Each offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine ranging from $33,000 to $100,000.
Berry said Wednesday that he didn't know he was breaking any laws. He said he incorporated a limited liability corporation to import jerseys in 2009 after looking online to find cheap jerseys with imperfections that made them affordable for customers with low incomes.
"I was never telling people this was a real jersey," Berry said. "I was telling them it was an 'unexact' replica of a jersey they would sell in a store."
Experts with professional sports organizations say such cases are part of a growing problem in Minnesota and elsewhere that support foreign sweatshops and child labor.
"A lot of time fans feel they're getting a good deal, but if the stitching falls apart the first day you wear it, or if the colors are off, it's not the good deal that you thought you were getting," said Tom Prochnow, group vice president for legal and business affairs for the National Hockey League, which last year sent Berry a warning letter about his imports.
Police allege that Berry sold bogus jerseys through an ad on Craigslist and had people selling them for him after he imported from countries such as China and Taiwan, according to charges filed Dec. 9 in Dakota County District Court. Berry, however, said he never sold on Craigslist.
According to the complaint: Eagan police began investigating Berry in May after learning that he had racks of Minnesota Twins jerseys in his garage and that they were being sold on Craigslist.
On May 24, police arranged a meeting to buy a jersey and then compared it to authentic jerseys.
Police stopped a man leaving Berry's house and found in his vehicle National Football League, Major League Baseball and World Cup soccer jerseys. He told police he'd been selling them for Berry.
On June 8, police searched Berry's home. He told officers that he was buying jerseys from China and selling those imports for profit. Berry admitted to having people sell the jerseys for him. He told police that he did not have sales records because he destroyed them, the complaint says.
Eagan police said they collected 380 counterfeit jerseys.
Experts at the Coalition to Advance the Protection of Sports Logos -- an organization begun in 1992 by the four major sports organizations plus Collegiate Licensing Company -- examined 359 of the jerseys and determined their value to be $77,000, the court papers say.
Months before his arrest, Berry had been warned that he could get in trouble over his imports. In September 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials had confiscated 11 NHL counterfeit jerseys that were imported from Taiwan and addressed to Berry.
The NHL sent Berry a warning letter then but he didn't respond, the complaint says.
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017