A U.S. Department of State employee and his spouse pleaded guilty on Dec. 10 to trafficking in counterfeit goods—mostly Vera Bradley handbags—while working at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, the Justice Department said.
Gene Leroy Thompson Jr., 54, was an Information Programs Officer employed by the State Department when he used his embassy computer to create numerous accounts on various e-commerce platforms between September 2017 and December 2019, according to a Justice Department statement.
Guojiao “Becky” Zhang, 40, who is married to Thompson and resided with him in Seoul, conspired with her husband and an accomplice in Oregon to ship the items to purchasers across the United States.
“Zhang took primary responsibility for operating the accounts, communicating with customers, and procuring counterfeit merchandise to be stored in the District of Oregon,” the Justice Department said.
The couple also directed the co-conspirator in Oregon to ship items to U.S.-based buyers.
The two defendants were arrested and indicted in Dec. 2019, while the Oregon accomplice has not been identified or charged.
According to the indictment (pdf), Vera Bradley became aware of the alleged scheme and sent a cease-and-desist letter on April 23, 2018, to the alleged Oregon co-conspirator, who then emailed Thompson to inform him.
The email to Thompson said that “Vera Bradley is ‘requesting that you immediately cease and desist from offering for sale any Vera Bradley counterfeit products and destroy any violating products.'”
He replied, “OK, I thought this would happen. Stop all shipment,” while also sending an email to Zhang, stating, “Take all the listing for VB down. VB has caught you,” according to the indictment.
Following Vera Bradley’s request to stop selling fake goods, the couple created more e-commerce accounts using aliases and continued selling counterfeit Vera Bradley merchandise, the indictment stated.
Both Thompson and Zhang pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods, a crime that carries a maximum fine of $2 million or a jail term of up to 10 years.
The guilty pleas were made before U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane, who has scheduled sentencing for March 2021 for both defendants.