San Diego Man Gets 4 Years in Prison for Trafficking Bogus iPhones and iPads

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The man and his brothers imported fake devices that had valid serial numbers, then directed others to exchange them for the real thing at Apple stores.

A 34-year-old San Diego man was sentenced March 25 along with his brothers for organizing and leading an international trafficking scheme involving more than 10,000 counterfeit iPhones and iPads, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Zhiwei “Allen” Liao was sentenced to four years and three months in prison and was ordered to forfeit two residences, $120,370 and more than 200 Apple devices that were seized by authorities.

The sentencing comes after a years-long investigation by the FBI.

“Mr. Liao’s sentencing closes a major chapter in a multi-year investigation that exposed an international, elaborate scheme to sell counterfeit goods worldwide,” said FBI San Diego Special Agent Stacey Moy.

Zhiwei and his brothers, Zhimin “Jimmy” Liao, 36, and Zhiting “Tim” Liao, 33, imported the fake iPhones and iPads from China, then directed co-conspirators to go to hundreds of Apple stores across the U.S. and Canada to exchange the fake products for real ones.

Zhiwei then sent the genuine products to China for resale at premium prices, the statement said, resulting in a total loss of $6.1 million to Apple.

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The devices included serial and IMEI numbers that matched real iPhones and iPads that were under warranty and had been sold to customers in the U.S. and Canada, according to the statement. An IMEI number, or international mobile equipment identity number, is a 15-digit number unique to each device.

“This was a massive, sophisticated fraud that victimized not only Apple, Inc., but thousands of Apple product owners across North America,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath in the statement. “Theft of intellectual property and the sale of counterfeit goods are growing global problems with serious economic implications.”

Zhimin and Zhiting Liao were sentenced to three years and five months in prison in October 2023, the statement said. The wives of the three men were all sentenced to probation, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The FBI-led investigation, which was conducted with other agencies, “resulted in 12 felony convictions, the forfeiture of five residences in San Diego with an estimated value of more than $4.1 million, over $250,000 in cash, and more than 200 Apple products that were either counterfeit, fraudulently obtained, or used during the criminal operations,” the statement said.

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