Jianhua “Jeff” Li, a 43-year-old Chinese national who lived in the US on a student visa, pled guilty today to taking part in a counterfeiting operation out of China that involved selling fake iPhones and iPads to customers in the United States. The case, headed up Homeland Security and prosecuted by the Justice Department, has been ongoing since 2015, when Li was charged and taken into custody.
For five years starting in 2009, Li — alongside conspirators Andreina Becerra, Roberto Volpe, Rosario LaMarca — helped smuggle more than 40,000 products and accessories from China into the US, including both iPhones and iPads, alongside packaging, labels, and other documents containing forged Apple logos and trademarks. The operation was large in scale, with Li personally receiving $1.1 million in sales revenues from US customers thinking they were buying legitimate Apple products.
It’s unclear how much Li himself, his family in China, or his partners in the scheme made from the counterfeiting operation. It’s also unclear just how big the operation was at its peak or whether it had ties to large-scale counterfeiting manufacturing operations in China, where Apple products are in high demand and where sophisticated electronics manufacturing plants often produce fake goods. Accounts for Li’s scheme were kept in Florida and New Jersey, where proceeds were first deposited before being transferred to Italy and then onward to other sources around the globe to mask their origin, according to the DOJ.
Li was charged with and pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and labels and to smuggle goods into the US, as well as one count of trafficking in counterfeit goods. His sentencing is set for May 30th. LaMarca, another member of the conspiracy, was the first to be sentenced last year in July, receiving a prison term of 37 months. Both Becerra and Volpe, Li’s other conspirators, are still awaiting sentencing.