The shoes, which could have fetched $1.1 million, were seized at a storefront in the 9000 block of South Commercial Avenue, where Chukwuemeka Ebelechukwu, a Nigerian native living in Chicago, is accused of housing the shoes, officials said.
“I think it was a storefront being more or less used as a warehouse,” said Officer Carol McGee, who executed the warrant and along with her partner received the tip about the operation.
Ebelechukwu, of the 11100 block of South Homewood Avenue,was charged Monday with unlawful use of a trademark, according to Detective Jason Pullappally. Ebelechukwu is scheduled to appear for a bond hearing Tuesday.
McGee said Ebelechukwu is accused of selling most of his goods to small local stores and individuals who would resell them. She said that the shoes consisted mostly of Air Force 1’s, a popular model, and Air Jordan’s.
“There were quite a few types of shoes in there that Nike doesn’t even make,” she said. “Just some weird color combinations, like ones that looked like they were commemorating the 4th of July.”
The seizure, though sizable, is not the biggest for counterfeit Nikes, according to Vada Manager, a spokesman for the company.
“It usually happens in a lot of port cities and states, places like Florida, New York, New Jersey, and really anywhere where Nike product is popular,” he said. In a July 2005 raid, New York police seized more than 27,000 pairs of Nike shoes worth about $2 million, Manager said.
To combat bootlegging, Nike has set up an extensive network of investigators.
“We have investigators around the world who do nothing but work underground and with law enforcement to detect counterfeiting activity,” Manager said.
That includes working with local officers like McGee and her partner, Dan Stanek, who engineered the raid after they got the tip about illegal merchandise being sold on the South Side.
“We don’t know for sure, but our information tells us that he might have been getting them from China or online,” she said
McGee said that Ebelechukwu was mostly operating by phone, calling contacts and sources to pick up shipments from the storefront, where the glass had a reflective tint that made looking inside difficult.