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Authorities comb through raid evidence

COVINGTON - Newton County authorities are still in the process of adding up the total amount of counterfeit merchandise seized during a raid Friday night at the International Merchandise Mart on Salem Road.

According to Lt. Philip Bradford, commander of the Covington/Newton County Special Investigations Unit, authenticators are still going through the various items of clothing, DVDs, jewelry and handbags to determine which are real and which are phony.

A coalition of more than 100 law enforcement officers from SIU, the Newton County Sheriff's Office and Covington Police Department raided the flea market shortly after 5 p.m., making 35 arrests and seizing thousands of dollars worth of pirated goods.

Authorities launched an undercover investigation into the flea market after two private investigators, one of whom works on behalf of clothing companies such as Nike, Polo and Gucci, and the other, who works for Paramount Pictures, approached them in September.

While most of those arrested were vendors, Bradford said five others were taken into custody on unrelated charges.

One of the suspects, Elroy Graham, 36, of 340 Tall Oaks Drive, Conyers, was charged with possession of marijuana after he was spotted by an undercover officer attempting to discard a bag of the illegal substance.

"He had a bag of marijuana in his pocket and he was trying to get rid of it," Bradford said. "He was going to throw it on the ground, but little did he know, he was standing next to one of our undercover detectives who quickly scooped him and the marijuana both up."

According to Bradford, there were several undercover officers staged throughout the building prior to the raid.

Another suspect who was working as a security guard at the flea market, Michael Curtis, 44, of 140 Landing Lane was arrested and charged with carrying a pistol without a license after authorities reportedly discovered a 9 mm handgun on his person.

Three others were arrested for outstanding probation violation warrants.

Bradford said 60 search warrants have been issued thus far in the investigation, three of which were for the cars of vendors that were parked on the premises. Investigators spotted the vehicles, which were reportedly loaded down with counterfeit merchandise, in the parking lot as they were getting ready to leave the shopping complex about 3 a.m. Saturday.

Those arrested for selling the phony merchandise will be facing charges of forgery or counterfeiting of trademarks, service marks, or copyrighted or registered designs, which is a misdemeanor in most cases. To be charged with a felony, a person must possess more than $10,000 worth of counterfeit goods.

As of press time Monday, the names of all those who were arrested were not yet available.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.