A small fire last year at a Valley Stream warehouse led to the takedown of an alleged multi-million-dollar health and beauty product counterfeiting operation, and the arrests of its two leaders.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced the arrests last Friday, a day after prosecutors seized four tractor-trailers full of products while executing a search warrant at five locations. Rice said the operation was brought to the attention of her office by fire officials.
According to Rice, brothers Hamant Mullick, 60, of Franklin Square, and Pardeep Malik, 59, of Plainview, ran a “sophisticated” operation in manufacturing, storage and showroom facilities in Franklin Square, Oceanside, Valley Stream and Freeport. The two men, Rice said, sold products to distributors that they and at least 20 of their employees manufactured that closely resembled those of major international companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Procter and Gamble, and Unilever. Counterfeit ChapStick, Vicks VapoRub and Vaseline were found in retail locations in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida. An investigation is under way to determine whether retail outlets in any other states sold the brothers’ manufactured products.
The investigation of the operation began in January, after Valley Stream Fire Department officials returned to the site of a March 2013 fire — which involved burning boxes of what was then thought to be Vicks VapoRub at an industrial building on Hawthorne Avenue — for a routine follow-up inspection, and noticed suspicious items such as gas piping and open burners filled with wax. Officials from the Nassau County fire marshal’s office then searched the building and found some of the bogus products, which they later sent to the legitimate manufacturers, who verified that they were counterfeit.
“These are products people buy every day,” Rice said. “They look legitimate.”
Inside the building, Fire Marshal Scott Tusa said, investigators found “numerous fire and code violations, including open electrical wiring, empty fire extinguishers, and locked and blocked exits that made the workers inside virtual prisoners in the event of a fire or other emergency.”
Rice said that it has not been determined whether the brothers’ employees knew they were working in a counterfeit operation.
“This is one of the largest rings of this type ever,” Rice said at a press conference on March 7 at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola. “These products were done with a level of professionalism that is just frightening. What’s so disturbing is that people were putting these products on babies.”
“Health and beauty products,” Rice went on to say, “like lip balms, oils, shampoos and inhalers, are highly regulated in order to protect consumers. These defendants are charged with going around those protections and stealing the brands of major corporations that comply with the law.”
She added that it is not yet known whether unsuspecting consumers who bought the counterfeit products experienced any adverse health effects.
Frank Roca, Valley Stream’s fire inspector, told the Herald that there were several signs that the manufacturing was not tied to a legitimate company. Propane tanks that fed large burners inside the Valley Stream building, and 55-gallon drums of turpentine left lying around, were among the red flags.
While manufacturing is permitted in that building, there were numerous violations. “You still have to follow fire codes,” Mayor Ed Fare said. “There was an illegal burn going on here.”
Fare added that the operation jeopardized not only the unknowing consumers who purchased the products, but nearby homes and businesses. He credited the village and county fire inspectors for their diligence. “They noticed it, they acted properly,” he said. “This is something that was shut down and stopped.”
The brothers were arraigned on March 7 at Nassau County District Court, and Judge Anna R. Anzalone set bail at $100,000 for each of them. Mullick and Malik were each charged with three counts of first-degree trademark counterfeiting and one count of second-degree trademark counterfeiting — both felonies. They were due back in court on March 11.