The lives of thousands of kids in New York were put in danger by poisonous knock-off toys so that a handful of people could get rich.
Police in New York caught onto the scheme, which involved importing toys from China that were laden with lead and had numerous hazardous parts that violated U.S. laws.
Two people involved in the scheme—Chenglan Hu, 52, and Hua Fei Zhang, 53—were the last of nine people involved to plead guilty, which they did in the Eastern District of New York court on Aug. 27.
The toys looked innocent. They were characters kids know and love: Winnie the Pooh, Dora the Explorer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spiderman, Mickey Mouse, and others.
But the toys were counterfeits, made without approval. They also violated U.S. health codes, and put the lives of American children in danger.
“We have no more important mission than protecting children,” said Elliot Kaye, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in a press release. “For that reason, the CPSC will continue to work with our federal partners to enforce toy safety requirements at the ports and in the marketplace.”
Of the 33 shipments from China siezed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 17 shipments included toys with excessive lead content, excessive phthalate levels, small parts that kids could choke on, and battery compartments that were easily accessible.
Hu, Zhang, and the other six people involved sold the toys in Brooklyn, Queens, and Ridgewood from July 2005 to January 2013. They did this under the names of their five corporations, Family Product USA Inc., H.M. Import USA Corp., ZCY Trading Corp., Zone Import Corp. and ZY Wholesale Inc.
To keep the scheme running, they would often change the use of their companies, sometimes form new companies, and even change their titles to hide what their roles are in the scheme.
“The defendants used a continuously shifting series of corporate entities in an effort to stay one step ahead of law enforcement,” said assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell, in the press release. “But their game has now come to an end.”
Hu and Zhang agreed to forfeit $700,000, as well as 120,000 toys deemed dangerous for kids. Zhang had to pay much more. The government had already siezed three of his luxury vehicles, six of his bank accounts, and filed lis pendens against two of his real estate properties in Queens.
They have not yet been sentenced.