Best Of '99: Eleven Busted For Allegedly Counterfeiting Ricky Martin, Madonna Albums

Record industry says New York operation could have cost it $100 million a year.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Wednesday, Sept. 8.]

Eleven alleged music pirates could each receive up to 15 years in prison

following the largest-ever police seizure of recordable CDs.

In a three-day series of raids ending Wednesday, police in Suffolk County,

N.Y., netted 80,000 allegedly counterfeit albums by Jennifer Lopez, Ricky

Martin, Madonna and dozens of other artists, according to Frank Creighton,

senior vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Creighton, who oversees the RIAA's anti-piracy efforts, said Tuesday

(Sept. 7) that the raids were part of an ongoing six-month probe. "We

think it's going to have a tremendous ripple effect," he said. "We're

confident that this was the largest supplier in the Northeast."

Police seized $250,000 worth of equipment, which could have produced CDs

costing the record industry $100 million a year in lost sales, the RIAA

said.

Pirates operated around the clock at three industrial parks in Bohemia,

Ronkonkoma and Holbrook, according to Creighton and police. The three

towns are in Suffolk County, on New York's Long Island.

Creighton said about 150 CD burners churned out discs designed to mimic

such official products as Madonna's Ray of Light (RealAudio

excerpt of title track) and Ma$e's Harlem World, which

includes the track "Get Ready" (RealAudio

excerpt).

A commercial print shop in Holbrook that was accused of creating inserts

for the discs also was raided. The CDs, along with thousands of

counterfeit cassettes, were shipped from distributors in the New York

City boroughs Queens and Manhattan. They were sent to cities throughout

the East Coast, at least as far west as Chicago and possibly to Puerto

Rico and the Dominican Republic, Creighton said.

Investigators slipped decoy CDs into the marketplace to help ferret out

the pirates, Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown said in a

statement. Creighton would not elaborate on how the operation worked.

Fifteen people were arrested. Police charged 11 with first-degree

counterfeiting, a felony that carries up to 15 years in prison as well as

fines, Suffolk County Police Sgt. Vincent Ward said. The rest face other

counterfeiting charges.

Stores purchased the CDs for about $4 or $5 each, several dollars less

than what they would pay for legitimate products, according to Creighton.

The counterfeit discs were marked with the name "Dan," the alleged pirates'

seal of identification, which helped police trace the bogus items. The

mark confirms the discs' origin in case stores attempt to return defective

CDs to the pirates, according to Creighton.

"It works the same way legitimate retail works," he said. "They want to

keep their customers happy."