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Los Angeles: Los Angeles vice detectives arrested three men and seized over 5,000 illegally manufactured DVDs during a raid at a store front in the downtown Fashion District.
"The suspects were burning the DVDs right under our noses," said Lt. Paul Vernon, head of the Central Detective Division. "Thanks to a local tipster, our undercover officers were able to make a buy to verify the information."
Acting on a search warrant, police raided Suite 201A, one of many nondescript business spaces at 305 East 9th Street. Around 3:30 PM, plain clothes and uniformed officers converged on the suite, which had no sign and no windows.
According to vice officers, the store front served as the supply depot for the local DVD sellers, many of whom are undocumented aliens, and often women. Police seized four DVD burning towers, each of which can copy eight DVDs at once. They also seized over $2,000 in cash. Vendors typically sell the DVDs for around $5, about five times the cost to copy the DVDs.
Police recently found a tie between a local gang and the DVD sales. "What buyers don’t realize is their money is going toward a local gang, which charges the vendors rent to let them sell on the street," Vernon added. "The gangs use the vendors’ alien status to intimidate them and take advantage. Few victims ever report the extortion."
Last week, a local Business Improvement District security officer was assaulted by gang members in retaliation for the security officer seizing illegal DVDs abandoned by a vendor. According to Lt. Vernon, this is how the gangs justify their rent, by protecting the vendors against outsiders, security guards, and competition. The money goes to buy guns for the gang.
The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) worked with the officers in seizing the DVDs. The MPAA investigators will hold the evidence, pending trial, then destroy the DVDs when the case is over.
Arrested were Los Angeles residents Ely Lopez, 18; Javier Estrada Osorio, 39; Martin Pena, 19; and Ronald Belvin, 52, who is well known as a local counterfeit DVD seller. Each man was charged with the felony of Failure to Disclose True Origin [of a license product], 653 W PC. Their bail was set at $25,000.
"The sooner we can get DVD buyers and local store owners to understand how serious this criminal enterprise really is, the quicker we can reduce the gangs’ influence; and the better we can protect the economy of the area for all those locals who make their living in the entertainment business."
Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call Central Detectives at 213-972-1203. After hours or on weekends, calls may be directed to a 24-hour, toll-free number at 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (527-3247). Callers may also text "Crimes" with a cell phone or log on to www.lapdonline.org and click on web tips. When using a cell phone, all messages should begin with "LAPD." Tipsters may remain anonymous.