Police have long investigated cases of fake money and knock-off purses and shoes, but a local counterfeiting business exposed by state agents could have potentially deadly consequences for unsuspecting buyers.
Counterfeit bulletproof vests — sometimes pieced together with duct tape using old body armor pieces — have been sold online and at gun shows throughout the state by Ocoee-based Alpha Sports, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials said Monday.
Those vests couldn’t stop a bullet,
On Monday, the owner of Alpha Sports, former Ocoee city commissioner Scott Christopher Anderson, was arrested on fraud and counterfeiting charges for leading the scheme. Two of his employees, 51-year old Scott Williams, and Arami Rodriguez, 36, also were charged.
Agents say Alpha Sports put fake brand-name labels on body armor manufactured at its Ocoee warehouse and sold the items online and at gun shows across the state.
The company also had its own “Full Dragon” brand of body armor, and when tested by agents, “every round went through it,” said Special Agent Supervisor Daniel Warren. He said this is the first case of counterfeit body armor he’s seen.
Agents think Anderson has been selling his counterfeit products for two years, which means hundreds of people — including security guards and bail bondsmen — could be relying on sub-standard vests for protection.
Many law-enforcement agencies, including the Orlando Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Office, buy vests directly from manufacturers and provide them to officers.
One of the “disturbing” aspects of the case is that Anderson didn’t seem to understand the consequences if someone got shot while wearing one of his counterfeit products, Warren said.
It will not do the job it is supposed to do,
FDLE’s investigation began in August, when someone bought one of Alpha Sports’ vests at a gun show in West Palm Beach.
Though the vest had a label bearing the reputable name-brand “Point Blank,” the tipster, suspecting it was a counterfeit, took the item to the South Florida-based manufacturer to verify the item.
Point Blank confirmed it was counterfeit, and notified FDLE.
“We were so confident that the [body armor] was substandard that we shot at it in our test lab and the bullets went right through,” Michael Foreman, Point Blank vice-president of sales and products, told the Orlando Sentinel.
Foreman, a retired Orange County sheriff’s major, was suspicious and went to a gun show where Alpha Sports was selling the items.
“[Alpha Sports] represented it as being true and authentic body armor under warranty and none of that was the case,” Foreman said. “Anybody could be an innocent victim if they are wearing something that they think will protect them.”
FDLE agents raided Anderson’s facility on South Cumberland Avenue in early September.
They found the counterfeit body armor affixed with phony labels from various companies: Protective Apparel Corporation of America, American Body Armor, Gall’s, First Choice and OM Tactical.
Warren said employees took old pieces of body armor and sewed them together, sometimes using duct tape, to create products that appeared new.
It’s unclear how many of the counterfeit vests were sold, though Warren estimated 10 to 15 a weekend could have been sold at gun shows. The items sold for $600 to $900 each.
Point Blank’s Foreman said his company is not aware of any injuries as a result of people wearing the fake vests.
Last month, Anderson told the Orlando Sentinel FDLE raided his Ocoee warehouse and seized many items, but said he had no information about why investigators were at his business.
“This was a big surprise for me,” Anderson, 57, said at the time.
Anderson and Williams were booked into the Orange County Jail on Monday and subsequently released after posting bail. If convicted, they each face up to 10 years in prison per count.
Rodriguez is being held in the Pinellas County Jail, where he was previously booked on unrelated federal gun charges out of Tampa.
In that case, Rodriguez is accused of selling unregistered weapons, including a machine gun. He was indicted in August and arrested last month.