Revised SB 394 to be signed today by Gov. Lynch in Concord.By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Weekend traffic that, for years, streamed into Derry from everywhere else with prospective “pocketbook market” shoppers, has noticeably dwindled.
In fact, police traffic patrols are down, for lack of traffic. Locals no longer have to wait at intersections as convoys wind toward the Grand View Flea Market to buy knock-off merchandise, goods made in China to look like designer bags, sunglasses, polos and boots.
Flea market vendors have fled since Derry toughened up its grip on criminal counterfeiters.
Yesterday, longtime flea market owner Martin Taylor acknowledged that the days of overcrowded parking lots and knock-off bags are over.
“If it's illegal, we don't want them,” said Martin, whose business was the target of several raids in the past year by federal agents and local police, part of an ongoing investigation into the sale of counterfeit bags by vendors, largely coming here from New York to sell their illegal wares.
Vendor count at the market is down from somewhere around 200 just a year ago, to maybe 50, said Taylor. Bags are still being sold, but they don't have brand names on them anymore.
“That's OK. We'll be OK,” he said.
Taylor also said has no hard feelings against the town of Derry, which began exerting pressure on Taylor through law enforcement to clean up his market – holding him to zoning restrictions that had been overlooked since his business started exploding with the knock-off items and customers 15 years ago.
A little over a year ago, police started working with State Sen. Robert Letourneau, R-Derry, to hammer out legislation that would give lackluster state and local laws more teeth.
The result – SB394 – should do the trick, said Letourneau, who arranged for a ceremonial signing by Gov. Lynch of the bi-partisan legislation today at 1 p.m. in Concord.
SB394 is a revision of a bill signed into law last year, said Letourneau. The biggest difference is that the improved bill should close up a major loophole that prevented law enforcement from confiscating the phony goods for keeps.
“You couldn't take the product away and destroy it. It was like arresting a drug dealer and then giving back the drugs,” said Letourneau.
“The counterfeit business in this country makes more money than drugs, and it's stealing billions from the American economy – stealing jobs,” Letourneau said.
He received more than a few emails from constituents who felt it was trivial of him to focus energy on counterfeit legislation.
“People wondered what I was doing, going after knock-off pocketbooks. People may think this is a victimless crime, but it goes much deeper,” Letourneau said. “It's money that goes into the hands of terrorists. It takes away jobs and hurts businesses right here in New Hampshire.”
Among the counterfeit goods being sold when police raided the market in February were Stratham-based Timberland merchandise.
Letourneau said a representative of the boot manufacturer will be on hand for today's signing, along with agents from the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that combats counterfeiting and copyright infringement.
Derry Police Capt. George Feole said strengthening the language regarding forfeiture of goods by vendors makes enforcing the law clearer for local and state law enforcement.
“Locally, the traffic the market was creating was a huge problem. Traffic has dropped substantially, which is a big win for us – and for residents of Derry,” Feole said.
As vendors got the message from Derry police that counterfeiting was not going to be tolerated at the market, some of them began to seek out other outlets for their wares, said Letourneau.
“We heard that they were starting to turn up in other towns with smaller police forces less equipped to handle the counterfeiting, which is exactly why they came to New Hampshire in the first place, after other states cracked down on counterfeit activity,” Letourneau said.
The bill goes into effect upon signing, said Letourneau.
“It's been a nightmare for Derry police, hopefully one that's over now,” Letourneau said.