June 7th, 2011
By: Jonathan Benson
Wyldewood Cellars, a Kansas-based producer and distributor of elderberry juice, is the latest raid target of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which recently sent US marshals to the company’s winery in Mulvane to confiscate the “unapproved drug.” According to the rogue agency, Wyldewood had violated provisions in the US Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) that restrict health claims for food items, warranting the sudden invasion.
According to Barry Grissom, US Attorney for Kansas, the FDA sent a warning letter to Wyldewood in 2006 to remove or modify certain health claims that it said were in violation of federal law, but the company did not comply. FDA officials claim that Wyldewood continued to make unapproved claims, and that seizing the product was the next step.
However, John Brewer, co-founder of Wyldewood, says that after receiving the initial FDA warning letter, his company hired a consultant familiar with FDA regulations to help his company reword their product descriptions. After making the appropriate changes, and clarifying that the elderberry products in question were supplements, Brewer says his company had done what it needed to in order to be in compliance.
“We haven’t heard anything from (the FDA) since,” he told reporters, noting that following the changes up until the raid, the FDA had ceased communicating with Wyldewood. “They’ve been in our facility multiple times. It’s like, ‘C’mon guys, we changed our label, we changed everything we thought we were supposed to do.’ And then they show up and do this. (Supplements) seems to be one of their hot buttons these days.”
This tactic, of course, has become all too common in recent years. A company receives a warning letter from the FDA, makes the appropriate changes, never hears anything further from the FDA, and out of nowhere gets raided. Such actions on behalf of the FDA are ultimately unwarranted and illegal, and the offended parties have every right to sue the agency for damages.
“You think you are doing things correctly, and there hasn’t been any word, and all of a sudden you get this,” said Brewer to The Kansas City Star.
April 22nd, 2011
By: Douglas McIntyre
American consumers love bargains. But that zest for getting a coveted product at the lowest price also has an economic downside: It creates a giant opportunity for the scads of shady operators — especially from China — that specialize in pumping out counterfeit versions of the real thing.
U.S. companies lose at least hundreds of millions of dollars a year in sales from products that are counterfeited overseas and shipped to America. The problem’s exact scope isn’t entirely known because most of these products are never seized and, therefore, the federal government can’t get an accurate measurement of the economic loss.
To get a better handle on just how extensive counterfeiting has become, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the U.S. Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Protection unit, the federal agency charged with enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR) within America’s borders.
The CBP does so by seizing products that infringe the originals’ copyrights and patents. According to the agency, “The theft of intellectual property and trade in fake goods threatens America’s economic vitality and national security, and the American people’s health and safety. Trade in these illicit goods funds criminal activities and organized crime. In Fiscal Year 2009, there were 14,841 intellectual property rights seizures with a domestic value of $260.7 million. Goods from China accounted for 79% of the total domestic value for all IPR seizures.”
The first notable aspect of the data is the astonishing level at which China takes advantage of the U.S. markets. Some estimates by economists say 8% of China’s GDP comes from the sales of counterfeit goods, from software to designer clothing.
In addition to the CBP data, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed information from the Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement, the International Authentication Association, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and PC World magazine.
The one thing that becomes clear from these investigations is that while counterfeiting improves China’s GDP, it undermines economic growth in the U.S. The federal government can do only so much to combat the problem with current resources. Unfortunately, that means the erosion of sales in some industries due to counterfeit goods coming into the U.S. will continue.
Here are the 10 product categories, in descending order, that lose the most money to counterfeit goods.
Value: $99.8 million
Percent of Total Seizures: 38%
Just under $100 million worth of counterfeit footwear was seized entering the U.S. in 2009, by far the greatest amount of any product. By value, 98% of counterfeit footwear originated in China. This was the fourth year in a row that footwear was the top commodity seized.
2. Consumer Electronics
Consumer electronics, such as cell phones, digital music players and cameras, made up 12% of all seizures worth nearly $32 million. China produces most of these electronics, with approximately $18.5 million worth of seizures originating from there. Consumer electronics are also the most popular illegitimate product coming out of Hong Kong, second only to China. They make up 40% of all counterfeit goods that are intercepted from Hong Kong.
Anyone who has walked down a major New York City street has had the opportunity (or several) to buy a fake designer handbag. The CBP seized $21.5 million worth of counterfeit handbags, wallets and backpacks coming into the country. This accounts for 8% of all seized commodities that violated IPR. China exported $19.5 million of these goods.
There was only slightly less apparel seized than handbags, wallets and backpacks. The amount exported from China is also similar, worth $17.9 million. Counterfeit apparel is most often made to resemble designer fashion brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren.
lthough counterfeit watches are readily available in the U.S., over $15.5 million worth of watches and watch parts were seized in 2009. The majority of these items (just over $7.9 million in value) came from Hong Kong. The industry is currently flooded with replicas of every Rolex model available, as well as Panerai and Omega models.
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December 21st, 2010
By: Clifford Ward
Two brothers who say police unlawfully seized more than $190,000 from them during a traffic stop had been under surveillance and were suspected of drug-dealing, a lawyer for the city of Aurora said today during a court hearing.
Though neither Jose nor Jesus Martinez is charged with a crime, authorities are seeking forfeiture of $190,040 found in Jesus’ truck when he was stopped by an Aurora police officer on Oct. 18.
A Kane County judge ordered the money returned, but the city has refused.
The Aurora residents claim the money was family savings earned from a remodeling business. But during the hearing, an attorney disclosed reports from an Illinois State Police drug task force saying police had received court permission to tap the brothers’ phones on the suspicion they were involved in drug trafficking.
Chicago attorney John Murphey, who is representing Aurora, said the city had not been at liberty to discuss the case until today.
“We were constrained by a live, serious investigation,” said Murphey, who said he had been informed that the phase of the investigation involving the Martinez brothers was over.
Attorney Patrick Kinnally, who is representing the brothers, said the allegations did not change his assertion that the money had been unlawfully seized.
“Not a bit,” he said. “Let’s just see how the evidence plays out.”
The new documents allege that North Central Narcotics Task Force officers were listening in on a call between the Martinez brothers in which they discuss Jesus’ planned meeting with a man named Charlie in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Aurora.
According to the report, Jose tells Jesus, “The package is ready,” though there is no explicit mention of drugs.
The report said police observed Jesus Martinez arrive in the parking lot at 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 18 and talk with another man for a minute before both left in separate vehicles. No exchange is reported between the men, and police apparently did not stop the second driver, who was in a gray minivan.
“I noticed the gray minivan turn from westbound Indian Trail to northbound Orchard Road and leave the area,” a task force officer noted in the report.
Jesus Martinez was stopped by an Aurora police officer working with the task force about four minutes later. He and his passenger were questioned, and Jesus Martinez consented to have his vehicle searched.
Police brought in a drug dog but no drugs were found. However, they did find a sack of cash.
Aurora police were only involved in an intermediary fashion, Murphey said. After questioning Jesus Martinez at the Aurora police department and giving him a receipt for the money, Aurora police say they transferred the money that same night to the drug task force, which reported handing the money over the following day to the Department of Homeland Security.
The brothers have denied being involved in drugs, and neither has a criminal record. But another brother and a cousin had been convicted of drug charges following a 2002 arrest. Those convictions were overturned on appeal, and the charges were later dropped.
Kinnally filed a complaint on behalf of the brothers about a month after the seizure. In late November, Kane County Judge Michael Colwell signed a temporary injunction against Aurora, ordering the city to return the money because it had been seized unlawfully.
Since then, Colwell has retired. Judge Thomas Mueller, who has taken over the case, set Jan. 5 for a hearing.
A call to the North Central Narcotics Task Force was not immediately returned.
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May 18, 2010
By Tom Arup
Julian Assange, the Australian founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks, says he had his passport taken away from him at Melbourne Airport and was later told by customs officials that it was about to be cancelled.
Last year Wikileaks published a confidential Australian blacklist of websites to be banned under the government’s proposed internet filter.
The Age has been told that Assange’s passport is classified ”normal” on the immigration database, meaning the Wikileaks director can travel freely on it.
Assange told The Age his passport was taken from him by customs officials at Melbourne Airport when he entered the country last week after he was told ”it was looking worn”.
When the passport was returned to him after about 15 minutes, he says he was told by authorities that it was going to be or was cancelled.
September 10, 2009
By Daniel Taub
Foreclosure filings in the U.S. exceeded 300,000 for the sixth straight month as job losses that boosted the unemployment rate to a 26-year high left many homeowners unable to keep up with their mortgage payments.
A total of 358,471 properties received a default or auction notice or were seized last month, according to data provider RealtyTrac Inc. That’s up 18 percent from a year earlier, and down 0.5 percent from July, the Irvine, California-based company said in a statement. One in 357 households received a filing.
Foreclosures rose from a year earlier as companies cut payrolls by 216,000 workers last month, boosting the U.S. jobless rate to 9.7 percent, according to Labor Department data released last week. The rise in unemployment is having a bigger impact than an effort by the U.S. government and banks to modify mortgages and prevent foreclosures, said Morris A. Davis, an assistant real-estate professor at the Wisconsin School of Business.
“The foreclosure numbers are largely unemployment related,” Davis, a former Federal Reserve Board economist, said in an interview. “As long as 15 million Americans are unemployed, record foreclosures will continue.”
Foreclosures aren’t abating even as demand is returning to the U.S. housing market after a three-year slump. The number of contracts to buy previously owned homes rose more than forecast in July and increased for a record sixth consecutive month, while mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average price rose 1.7 percent in the second quarter.
Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate in August, with one in every 62 households receiving a filing, even with an 8.4 percent decrease in foreclosures from July, RealtyTrac said. August filings were up 53 percent from a year earlier, with 17,902 Nevada properties receiving a foreclosure filing.
The second-highest foreclosure rate in August was recorded in Florida, with one in every 140 households receiving a filing, followed by California, where one in 144 households received a foreclosure filing.
A 9.6 percent month-to-month decrease in filings helped lower Arizona’s foreclosure rate to fourth-highest in August from third-highest in July, RealtyTrac said. One in every 150 Arizona households received a foreclosure filing last month, still more than twice the national average, the company said.
Forty-seven banks have begun 360,165 modifications through the U.S. government’s Making Home Affordable program, up from about 235,247 in July, the U.S. Treasury said in a report yesterday.
Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co., among the worst performers of banks in the foreclosure-prevention plan, stepped up their pace of mortgage modifications by at least 60 percent last month. Bank of America more than doubled its number of modifications started to 59,891 in August from July, while Wells Fargo increased by 64 percent to 33,172.
While the loan revamps may prevent some foreclosures, many homeowners facing repossession have prime loans, mortgages considered less risky than the subprime loans blamed for much of the housing crash, and can’t make their payments because of job losses, said Richard K. Green, director of the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate.
“When people live in a housing market that’s dropped 30 or 40 percent, and they lose their jobs, that’s a recipe for default,” Green said.
About 4.3 percent of U.S. homes, or one in 25 properties, were in foreclosure in the second quarter, the Washington-based Mortgage Bankers Association said last month. That’s the most in three decades of data, and loans overdue by at least 90 days, the point at which foreclosure proceedings typically begin, rose to 7.97 percent, the highest on record.
In the RealtyTrac survey, Michigan, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Georgia and Illinois accounted for the other states with the top 10 highest rates of foreclosure filings. Six states accounted for 62 percent of the nation’s foreclosure filings.
New Jersey had the 11th highest rate with 8,316 filings, a 28 percent increase from a year earlier. Connecticut ranked 24th with 2,189 filings, a 22 percent increase. New York had the 39th highest rate with 5,350 filings, down 2.3 percent.
Las Vegas had the highest foreclosure rate among metropolitan areas with a population of 200,000 or more. One in every 53 households received a notice in August, up 48 percent from a year earlier and down 11 percent from July. Also in Nevada, the Reno-Sparks area had the seventh-highest foreclosure rate, with one in 86 households receiving a filing, RealtyTrac said.
California had six metropolitan areas among the top 10. Stockton and Merced ranked second and third; Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Vallejo-Fairfield and Modesto were fourth through sixth; and Bakersfield was 10th. Two Florida metropolitan areas were in the top 10, with Orlando- Kissimmee at No. 8 and Cape Coral-Fort Myers at No. 9, according to RealtyTrac, which collects data from more than 2,200 counties representing 90 percent of the U.S. population.