Dozens of FBI agents raided three warehouses in Queens and New Jersey Tuesday as part of an investigation into the sale of counterfeit auto parts, including brake pads, to unsuspecting New York City taxi companies.
Three people were arrested in connection with the knock-off auto parts ring. Aftermarket parts branded as top-of-the-line products were seized from warehouses in Astoria and Paterson, N.J.
Martin Feely, a supervisory special agent with the FBI, told NBC 4 New York the arrests came after a three-year investigation during which authorities say the suspects allegedly were involved in buying generic auto parts, slapping brand names on them and selling them at higher prices to taxi and auto companies.
A federal indictment accused the defendants of trying to pass off lower quality generic parts, some made in China, as real replacement parts made by Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and other well-known manufacturers. Their customers included suppliers for mechanics who service the cabs and limos.
"As alleged, these defendants sold the automobile replacement parts equivalent of designer knock-offs, but represented to their unsuspecting customers that they were buying the name brand," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Feely said the falsely branded products did not pose a safety risk to the public because though they may not have met the standards of the original manufacturer, they were still working products.
But a group representing cab drivers was warning fleet owners and mechanics to beware of parts supplied by a Queens shop linked to the defendants.
"We're concerned this could put the lives of drivers and passengers at risk," said Fernando Mateo of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers.
Since October 2011, two defendants operated a sham company in Paterson, N.J., that repackaged generic parts to look like name-brand products so they could sell them at higher prices, according to court papers. The third man ran a similar scam out of Easton, Pa., that also supplied shops with parts that ended up in New York City cabs, the papers say.
The parts included "brakes, brake pads, brake shoes, ignition coils, water pumps, window regulators, suspension sway bar links, wheel hubs, anti-lock braking sensors, control arm bushings, transmission filters, pitman arms, tie rod ends, and suspension air springs," the papers add.
Two of the men were awaiting court appearances in federal court in Manhattan; the third was to appear in court in Allentown, Pa. They each face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of trafficking in counterfeit goods.
Authorities were recommending that potential victims of the scheme have their vehicles inspected to look for knock-off parts.