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Fakes found at market

COVINGTON - The Covington/Newton County Special Investigations Unit paid a second official visit Thursday to the flea market known as the International Merchandise Mart on Salem Road and came away with more than $100,000 in counterfeit merchandise.

This was not the first time agents with the unit had served search warrants and made arrests at the facility. In December 2007, the unit arrested 38 people and confiscated thousands of dollars of phony name brand items, as well.

"It was SIU's first case, and we found out it's still going on," SIU Commander Lt. Philip Bradford said.

Three individuals were arrested Thursday - two of whom faced felony charges as a result of the first raid. One of the men has been convicted and was on probation and the other has yet to go to court on the first charges.

Charged with trafficking in counterfeit merchandise, including such items as Nike tennis shoes, Coogi and Polo shirts, pants, pocketbooks and Major League Baseball hats and shirts, were:

· Mussie Asha, 27, of 155 Plantation Circle, Clarkston;

· Girmawork Abebe, 44, 2035 Idlewood Road, Tucker;

· Kidist Demedema, 27, 2035 Idlewood Road, Tucker.

Bradford said undercover agents had gone in and purchased merchandise, which had been certified by shoe and clothing manufacturers as being counterfeit.

"If you have over $10,000 worth of articles, and that's what the company says it's worth, it's a felony," he said. "In other words if they're selling a pair of shoes for $30, but Nike sells them for $100, the value is what the real item would cost."

Abebe was found with 332 pairs of fake shoes and Asha had 425 pairs of counterfeit shoes.

"Just in shoes alone, if we were conservative and said they were $75 a pair, that's $24,750 worth of shoes for Abebe and $31,800 for Asha," Bradford said.

Bradford said federal charges against the three were being looked at by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"They are not citizens of this country. They are here on visas," Bradford said, adding that it is believed the suspects are from Ethiopia.

Bradford said the owner of the flea market said this was the last time such nefarious business dealings would be found at her business.

"The owners of that flea market had no knowledge or participation in the operation of this counterfeit clothing or shoe line," he said. "They do not condone it and vowed it would not happen again. The owner said she wants to bring another type of vendor into the market that's community-friendly."