2017-10-12 / Front Page

Store Owners Charged with Counterfeit Merchandise

More than $700,000 in goods seized
By Brooke Constance White

Three local store owners have turned themselves in after a Newport Police Department investigation found that seven area boutique and vintage shops had sold hundreds of high-end counterfeit goods. The retail value of the seized items, if legitimate, totaled more than $700,000, according to Sgt. Joseph C. Carroll, NPD public affairs officer, in an Aug. 23 press release.

Sandra Gaines, a Middletown resident and owner of Vintage to Vogue and Vintage to Vogue Too, was charged with eight counts of forgery/counterfeiting/altering trademarks; Patricia Vecchione, a Newport resident and owner of Heaven on Earth’s two locations, was charged with 10 counts of forgery/counterfeiting/altering trademarks; and Jennifer Ann Solimine, a resident of Raynham, Mass., and owner of the two BeDazzled retail stores in Newport, was charged with 15 counts of forgery/counterfeiting/ altering trademarks. Gaines will appear at Newport Superior Court on Nov. 16, Vecchione on Nov. 9, and Solimine on Dec. 7.

It’s unclear if the store owners were aware that the goods were counterfeit, though some claimed they were selling replicas. Merchandise seized by investigators included jewelry, handbags and purses, among other items.

According to arrest reports, the three accused store owners surrendered to police between Sept. 7 and Sept. 27 and were each charged with multiple felonies for displaying counterfeit goods with the intent to sell.

The counterfeit items were branded Chanel, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Gucci, Burberry, Celene, Tory Burch, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Hermes. Among the items confiscated were a $1,250 Chanel necklace, a $950 Louis Vuitton purse, a $1,050 Kate Spade wristlet purse, and a $168 Michael Kors wristlet. Because the items are counterfeit, the police base their value on the amount those companies potentially lost in sales.

Carroll said the department received information in June that several businesses were selling high-end counterfeit goods. Based on the information, the department’s Criminal Investigations Division conducted a two-month investigation that resulted in the issuance of search warrants for the seven businesses.

In late August, the division served the warrants and found numerous suspected counterfeit goods from high-end brand names with federally registered trademarks. No arrests were made at that time, Carroll said, but Gaines, Vecchione and Solimine were later charged when they turned themselves into authorities. Carroll said he doesn’t know who owns Chez Shell, and Carlos Alaan, Newport’s deputy city clerk, said his office does not have any information on Chez Shell since the business never registered with the City Clerk’s Office or the Tax Assessor’s Office.

During a Sept. 27 Newport City Council meeting, councilors voted to continue a docket item involving the selling of license and permits for Gaines and her two stores in order to obtain more information. According to Patricia Fay, executive assistant to Newport City Manager Joe Nicholson, Gaines was not at the meeting.

Gaines told Newport This Week in a phone conversation that she would like to offer some comment on the case and that there is another side to the story, but her lawyer, John McDonald of Providence, advised her not to speak about the matter. McDonald declined to comment other than saying his client had labeled the items as “designer-inspired replicas,” and did not advertise them or price them as being legitimate designer products. Vecchione declined to comment, and a phone call to Solimine requesting comment was not immediately returned.

Carroll said the investigation is ongoing and declined to comment further. Newport This Week is following this story and will report information as details become available.

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