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    Fake sunglasses charges reduced

    Most store owners charged with felonies in sales of fake Oakleys now face misdemeanors.

    By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 30, 2002


    LARGO -- When Pinellas sheriff's deputies arrested more than two dozen store owners in August on charges that they were selling fake Oakley sunglasses, the owners were charged with felonies.

    Two months later, prosecutors have decided to charge all but a few of the store owners with misdemeanors instead.

    The store owners initially were charged with felonies because deputies thought that the amount of money involved in the crime should be calculated by the value of the real sunglasses. Oakley glasses can sell for hundreds of dollars.

    Under that interpretation of the law, deputies could charge a store owner with a felony even if he was selling only a few fake Oakleys.

    But prosecutors have decided that the value amount should be based on how much the store owners were charging for the fake glasses. In most cases, that was less than $10 per pair. In all but one case, there were not enough glasses in the store inventories to add up to $1,000, said Bruce Bartlett, chief assistant state attorney.

    A couple of other cases were dropped because the store owners may not have known that the glasses were fake because of a language barrier, Bartlett said.

    Defense attorney John Trevena, who represents three of the store owners, said sheriff's deputies made bad felony arrests. With a felony charge, store owners had to post a high bail of $5,000 to get out of jail.

    "These are all unlawful arrests," Trevena said. "These are incredible blunders. I can't believe they did this."

    Trevena said he had an expert to interpret the counterfeit trademark law. That expert determined that the amount should be based on what the fake glasses were selling for, not the amount charged for the real deal, Trevena said.

    Trevena sent a letter arguing against the felony charges to prosecutors.

    But Bartlett said he didn't believe the law specified how to interpret the amount of money involved in the fraud.

    "I'm not here to criticize what they (deputies) did," Bartlett said. "There is no case law to interpret which valuation you use, so I think you can make an argument either way. We just felt the one more likely to be sustained by a court of law was the value of the Oakleys at the time of the sale."

    Bartlett said Trevena's letter had no bearing on prosecutors' decision to charge the store owners with misdemeanors.

    Sheriff's deputies confiscated about 1,800 fake Oakleys after a two-week undercover investigation into the counterfeiting in August.

    -- Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or tisch@sptimes.com .

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