Counterfeit items seized in searches

Jim Blaylock/Staff
Columbia County Sheriff's Office Investigator Robert Torres helped to close the stores during the raids.

Authorities raided three cell phone stores and a residence on Friday, seizing a treasure trove of suspected counterfeit items, including designer purses.

They also raided the Evans home of the stores' owner, Christopher Bettis, 28, and said they hope to interview him when he returns from a trip to Virginia.

About 30 officials from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, assisted by the Georgia Department of Revenue and the Secret Service, conducted the searches beginning about 11 a.m. at the following locations: T-Mobile and Sprint, 4455 Washington Road, Evans; and T-Mobile stores at 4216 Washington Road, Evans, and 3830 Washington Road, Martinez, said Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.

"Approximately 300 items were seized from two (Evans) stores," Capt. Morris said. "Those were the counterfeit items. There were wallets, handbags, sunglasses, watches, jewelry. Nearly 300 items, a retail value of over $100,000 (if actual designer items)."

Authorities were led to the back room goods after a recent burglary investigation and a visit from a "trademark representative" hired by Louis Vuitton. The representative purchased a handbag from one of the Evans locations, according to a search warrant filed Friday with the Columbia County clerk of court.

The seized counterfeit merchandise included knock-offs of luxury merchandise from Prada, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Coach, FUBU, Dooney & Bourke, Fila, and Fendi, Capt. Morris said. Paperwork, computers and other records also were seized from the three stores in addition to vehicles and recreational vehicles from Mr. Bettis' home off Mullikin Road.

Mr. Bettis faces charges of insurance fraud and two counts of counterfeit trademark violations, Capt. Morris said.

Police already have arrested a store manager, Dion Desir, 30, on a counterfeit trademark violation. He was being held without bond in the Columbia County Detention Center, Capt. Morris said.

Reach Valerie Rowell at 868-1222, ext. 110 or valerie.rowell@augustachronicle.com.

NO NEED TO WORRY

Authorities say those who have purchased faux-designer accessories from the T-Mobile locations should not worry about criminal prosecution. "We are focused on the seller," Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said.