Nearly $2 Million in Counterfeit Designer Clothing and Jewelry Seized in Two Palm Beach Stores by Police

A Palm Beach boutique owner has been released after being arrested and charged for selling counterfeit apparel and jewelry.

Earlier this month investigators seized what would be comparable to nearly $2 million worth of designer and luxury goods at two locations of Blesk Jewelry including one on tony Worth Avenue. Blesk’s owner Olena Austin was arrested and charged with selling or offering to sell counterfeit goods of $20,000 or more in value, according to a redacted probable cause affidavit. Knockoffs of Pucci, Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co., Rolex, Versace and Bottega Veneta were being sold.

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Austin, 51, has been released on a $50,000 bond. Media requests to Austin and Blesk were not acknowledged on Monday.

The Palm Beach Police Department’s Organized Crime, Vice and Narcotics Unit was made aware by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of knockoff clothing and jewelry being sold in October of 2023, according to PBPD captain William Rothrock. FBI officials had started the investigation after receiving a tip that counterfeit merchandise was allegedly being sold by Blesk. The PBPD’s OCVAN then started “Operation Worth-Less.”

Before the seizure of the merchandise at Blesk, the estimated value of the goods was $1 million. But upon further authentication with verification from some of the luxury brands, that estimate has increased to nearly $2 million and may become higher. Police officials seized about 800 items and nearly $4,300 as proceeds from the sale of the counterfeit merchandise. Additional charges could be pending, due to the ongoing authentication.

As counterfeiters have using 3D technology and other tools to create replicas and consumers’ thirst for designer brands has increased, unlicensed street vendors selling knockoffs have become more prevalent in New York City and other major cities, and other knockoff specialists are selling their goods online. Counterfeit luxury goods account for between 60 percent and 70 percent of the $4.5 trillion counterfeit business, and one-quarter of total luxury fashion goods, according to 2021 research by Penn State University.

In November, an undercover detective purchased a $395 shirt with a Pucci label at a Blesk store that was later deemed counterfeit by a Pucci representative earlier this month. Prior to making that purchase last fall, the detective had asked if it was real and was told by a Blesk salesperson that it was, according to the probable cause affidavit. The salesperson had also allegedly said that the Pucci items — which included $495 dresses and $199 swimwear — were marked clearance, because they were from the previous season.

When a detective visited Blesk’s Worth Avenue store last month, a store employee told them the items in the store were “heavily influenced” designs, but not authentic. The detective then purchased a pair of Chanel-inspired earrings with two interlocking “C’s,” which the salesperson had presented as authentic 14-karat gold for $694 and wrote a receipt. A Chanel employee confirmed they were counterfeit late last month.

Counterfeit Chanel
These Chanel-inspired earrings were among the approximate 800 items that investigators found.

While some counterfeit goods such as $495 Pucci dresses were displayed for patrons to see, other goods were not, particularly the counterfeit jewelry items, according to Rothrock. “It seems the salespersons or the owner maybe would vet customers before they would show them or attempt to sell them those pieces of [counterfeit] merchandise. It appeared that with a repeat customer or with a more lengthy conversation about some of the items that the option of being able to purchase something that was not on display would come up,” he said.

While Operation Worth-Less was not the PBPD’s first counterfeiting investigation, it was its first in “quite a few years,” Rothrock said. In 2015, two individuals were imprisoned for conspiracy to pass and possess counterfeit currency, including in connection with using counterfeit money to purchase luxury goods in a luxury department store in the Palm Beach Gardens Mall.

As for how shoppers can spot counterfeit goods, Rothrock said, “It’s important to recognize that maybe a deal is too good to be true. If it seems it might be too good to be true, it might be good to question those things.”

He added, “You get a combination of both [types of shoppers]. You have people who are possibly supporting those kinds of businesses that are selling counterfeit merchandise, because they are eager to have the looks for a whole lot less. Then you have some people who are just completely innocent shoppers that think they’re getting a really good deal on an item that has a certain value, but doesn’t. Then they only find that out years later, if they try to turn it around, resell it or otherwise need to retract the value of a piece of a jewelry or something else that they had purchased.”

While the issue of counterfeiting in Palm Beach is not currently pervasive enough for police officials to be proactively searching stores for counterfeit merchandise, Rothrock said law enforcement officials “rely a lot on community input and tips to decide where a problem exists and where we need to devote resources.”

He continued, “If anybody in the community at large thinks something is suspicious, let law enforcement know. A lot of times it may end up being nothing. If you see something that is out of place whether it’s a suspicious person, suspicious incident or something that seems off and might need law enforcement attention, it’s always best to notify law enforcement so at least we can vet those things and help keep everyone safe.”

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