CNBCfix review: Where are the
flicks in ‘Counterfeit Goods’?

          Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2010

Carl Quintanilla, working with Kurtis Productions, reaches too far in "Crime Inc.: Counterfeit Goods" and bundles together a story that seems remarkably incomplete.

There's not a word about counterfeiting of actual currency, nor does Quintanilla even address the seemingly high-interest subject of computer software or movie bootlegs, even though the program teases at the beginning with images of purported illegal DVDs. Is a movie DVD considered "counterfeit" if it's a recording made in a theater, or something more along the lines of piracy? It's astonishing Quintanilla did not pursue this angle.

In spite of that, Quintanilla manages to deliver a nice hourlong tribute to the authorities protecting not only business trademarks, but public health.

Like too many recent CNBC documentaries, "Counterfeit" offers a dollar amount for a news peg. We are supposed to care, because the street value/copyright damage/economic impact of the goods has now reached $(Whatever) billion a year. In the all-important opening 10-minute segment, we're told, "If you're dealing drugs, then you're a fool. If you're making counterfeits, you're at the crest of the wave."

Quintanilla even says, "Profit margin is greater than any other illegal business."

But what, exactly, does counterfeiting entail? We're told about knockoff handbags in L.A., New Balance lookalikes in China, detergent bottles marked "Time" (as if anyone wouldn't notice that difference), a Hezbollah scheme to transfer cigarettes from North Carolina to heavier-taxed states, Internet prescription drug scams, a crooked military contractor and a crooked Botox doctor. A wide-ranging series of crimes, illegal to widely varying degrees.

"Counterfeit Goods" boils down to some hidden-camera police work, an almost too-tired staple of investigative TV, namely 3 stings involving L.A. cops and Hong Kong investigator Theodore Kavowras. In fact the material on these hidden cameras is far less than juicy; without any context it would be impossible to know any crime was being committed.

Skeptics might wonder how things like fake watches, aside from being illegal, could really seriously hurt society. Quintanilla's program offers these examples: extension cords without requisite copper, knockoff shoes that hurt your feet, fake "Tide" detergent that might be bad for the environment, lead in knockoff designer bags, cigarettes containing human feces, corrosion of knockoff parts sold to the military.

Only 2 victims are profiled, Dr. Eric and Bonnie Kaplan. They received a bad injection of Botox from a crooked doctor and nearly died. Eric Kaplan is refreshingly candid, saying he sought the procedure for vanity reasons. But this story lacks anything close to tear-jerking drama; the couple appears reasonably well-recovered and the perpetrator is apparently a lone scheming physician. Quintanilla offers nothing to suggest this should be a wide-ranging fear for Botox patients or that something similar has even happened to anyone else. What this incident has in common with Chinese knockoff New Balance shoes is a mystery solved only by the artistic license of the program.

What "Counterfeit Goods" does convey is a sense of gratitude toward the authorities, in the LAPD and Customs enforcement, who most certainly do take this work seriously and most likely defend the public from threats far worse than Quintanilla illustrates. Busting someone with a knockoff Gucci bag doesn't seem dangerous, until you consider that the person being busted may be out on parole, or in the country illegally, may happen to have a gun on him, and may just happen to pick that time to go ballistic.

What Quintanilla unfortunately doesn't say is that the officer who uncovers the ridiculous detergent bottles spelled "Time" that few people would ever buy has probably also detected ground-level evidence of a serious syndicate that has much bigger fish in the frying pan.

Some might rightfully wonder, should the LAPD really be assigning vigorous officers such as Rick Ishitani to busting sellers of fake Gucci bags when people are getting murdered daily on the streets. Quintanilla doesn't offer statistics on what percentage of L.A. or other police resources are spent busting fake Nikes or Pradas. It's safe to assume the business world appreciates whatever it can get.

"Counterfeit Goods" is one of several recent CNBC programs partly outsourced to Kurtis Productions, a stellar producer of cable TV investigative material. But "Counterfeit" feels like leftovers, "Dateline" type of material and a production cobbled together from background work on various scams using investigators' footage to top off a largely uninteresting subject. Each part, like a mortgage bond, should be stripped away and packaged differently. Quintanilla could talk about medical fraud, or the shoe industry, or cigarette tax disparities, or all the stuff Customs agents have to look for. "Counterfeit" is not boring but seems like a rare miss from CNBC and Kurtis. To the officers, though, we say thanks.

Other reviews of "One Nation, Overweight":

David Hinckley, New York Daily News: Quintanilla "builds a strong case for the negative impact of counterfeiting"

"Crime Inc.: Counterfeit Goods" (2010)
Featuring: Harley Lewin, Theodore Kavowras, Kris Buckner, John Drengenberg, Rick Ishitani, Cindy Schreiner, Therese Randazzo, Robert Perez, Sharon Melzer, Walt Tomczykowski, Peter Outerbridge, John Clark, Dr. Eric Kaplan, Bonnie Kaplan, Robert DeMartini, Trampas Tenbroek, Edward Haddad

Executive Producer: Sharon Barrett
Producer: Jane Petrof
Associate Producer: Dan Kolen
Project Manager: Katie Bryan
Field Producer: Rachel Pikelny
Editor: David Fortney
Assistant Editor: Suzanne Johns
Camera: Paul Jacobson, Roel Robles, Dave Foerder, Alex Herrera, Jeff Kleinman, Darryl Miller
Field audio: David Mendez, Steve Rogers, David Carlucci, Oscar Molina, Daniel Eriksen, Paul Green, Dug Mara
Audio Director/Original Music: David Huizenga
Post Production Audio: Brian Leitner
Post Production Manager: Matt Greif
For CNBC: Executive Producer: Charles Schaeffer
Creative Director: Victoria Todis
Designer/Animator: Michael Schwartz
Coordinating Producer: Jamie Corsi
Senior Producer On-Air Promotion: William Imobden
Senior Internet Producer: Pat Fastook
VP Strategic Planning/Long Form: Raymond Borelli
Host: Carl Quintanilla
Chief Photographer: Angel Perez
Photographers: Oscar Molina, Alex Herrera
Floor Manager: Henry Fraga
Audio: David Foerder
Lighting: Jonathan Stevens, Benjamin Suarez
Technical Production Assistant: Adam Ly
Jib Operator: Michael Milia
Jib Assistant: Jason Petros
Special Thanks (selected): Daniel Chow, Amy Dow, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Emily Langlie, Chris Loder, Marlene Plummer, Officer John Saleh

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