Ex-NFLer Hill fights Super Bowl counterfeiting

Randal Hill spent seven years in the NFL catching passes and

scoring touchdowns. Now he and other federal agents are working to

prevent criminals from ripping off fans and the league at the Super

Bowl.

Hill is part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

team that is scouring South Florida for counterfeit merchandise and

arresting the people who peddle it.

“We’re hitting every store that we possibly can. We will

continue and we won’t stop,” said Hill, a speedy wide receiver on

the University of Miami’s 1989 national championship team. His NFL

career included stops with the Saints, Dolphins and Cardinals.

“It would be sad to see a young kid who’s really into the game,

who’s really into professional sports, wearing something that is

not authentic and thinking he has the real thing.”

Sales of knockoff NFL hats, T-shirts and jerseys are a big

illegal business all year long. But as fans converge each year on

the Super Bowl, the counterfeiters follow with millions of dollars

worth of fake stuff, said John Morton, assistant Homeland Security

secretary for ICE.

So far, ICE agents working “Operation Faux Bowl” in South

Florida have seized more than 1,600 counterfeit items worth about

$155,000, Morton said Thursday. By the time the week is over, he

expects the totals to be similar to 2009, when the game was in

Tampa. Then, agents confiscated 15,653 items worth over $1.8

million.

Counterfeiters charged with a federal crime can face up to five

years in prison and fines.

“It’s clearly an organized crime problem. This is not a

mom-and-pop kind of crime,” Morton said. “There are a number of

major sporting events that you know well in advance are going to

draw an organized crime element. We put on a sustained surge effort

to combat the trouble we know is going to show up.”

The 40-year-old Hill is part of that surge. As a player, Hill

said he didn’t think too much about the ramifications of

counterfeit merchandise – how it feeds criminal enterprises, rips

off fans, players and the league itself, and removes money from the

U.S. economy. Often the fake stuff comes from China or India.

Hill recently spoke with friends Chad Ochocinco, Joey Porter and

Ray Lewis about how current NFL players could bring greater public

attention to the problem.

“I think it’s important to get the word out. It’s all about the

fans,” Hill said. “If the fans want to be buying good

merchandise, we don’t want to see them out there with counterfeit

goods on their backs.”

At ICE’s office in Miami, agents displayed stacks of counterfeit

apparel already seized: Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ No. 9

jersey, caps bearing the Super Bowl logo and the Saints and Colts

emblems, even throwback jerseys of older stars such as Dan Marino

and Terry Bradshaw.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said fans should be careful

throughout the year to check the quality of the goods they’re

buying. The NFL uses special holograms and other difficult-to-copy

techniques on its officially licensed merchandise and doesn’t sell

items with mistakes, such as a green Colts shirt recently being

peddled in Miami or a jersey with the player’s name misspelled.

“These people aren’t graphic artists, they’re con artists,”

McCarthy said. “First and foremost, it’s buyer beware. Be

sensible.”

So far, Morton said ICE agents haven’t seen a major problem with

phony Super Bowl tickets. Anastasia Danias, the NFL’s vice

president for legal affairs, said the league uses a series of

security devices on the tickets, such as two-way holograms and a

special ink that rubs off and then almost magically reappears.

“And that’s only what we can tell you about,” Danias said.

Hill, who first began planning for a federal law enforcement

career in the mid-1990s, has also been involved in financial and

national security investigations at Immigration and Customs

Enforcement. He was part of a task force that rounded up South

Florida members of the violent MS-13 gang and compares the

sometimes long hours and stress of his job to his NFL days.

“The fans see a lot of the glitz and glamour, but people don’t

understand there’s a lot of stress with being a professional

football player,” he said, mentioning as examples the agony of a

dropped pass at a key moment or the long hours watching film. “In

law enforcement, you have to protect your friends and your

colleagues as well.”

Another parallel occurred to him: “I try to be high speed, low

drag. I’ve got to be bulletproof and invisible.”