Editor’s note: This story was updated Nov. 1 at 1:21 p.m. to include new information from the Air Force and Associated Press.
A clothing wholesaler faces more than three years in federal prison for selling $20 million worth of counterfeit military gear to be issued to American airmen, the Justice Department said in a release Thursday.
Ramin Kohanbash, 52, of Brooklyn, New York, passed off tens of thousands of unsafe, Chinese-made uniforms and other equipment to the U.S. military, the government said.
“Some of these products lacked crucial safety features or failed to meet safety specifications, endangering the health and safety of the military personnel who wore them,” the department said in a press release. “At least 13,332 counterfeit jackets not resistant to enemies’ night vision goggles and 18,597 non-flame resistant hoods were among the counterfeit products that entered the military supply chain, destined for U.S. Air Force bases around the world.”
Air Force spokesperson Derek Kaufman said the Air Force purchased 21,000 items but that it’s unclear how many of them airmen bought.
“Fortunately, airmen did not use their personal funds,” he said. “All items were paid for by their assigned unit using government funds.”
Kohanbash and two others, Terry Roe of Burlington, North Dakota, and Bernard Klein of Brooklyn, sent U.S. military uniforms and gear to Chinese manufacturers so they could copy the designs. That included tags and labels with the trademarks of 15 military suppliers in the United States, the government said.
Chinese companies created knockoff products, tags and trademarks and shipped them to Kohanbash’s New Jersey warehouse, where he sold them to the Pentagon and military suppliers.
“Kohanbash and Klein strategized on how to subvert Chinese and American customs to ensure that the counterfeit military uniforms and gear were successfully imported,” the release said. “Additionally, Kohanbash and Roe deceived personnel at military base supply centers by including false certification letters claiming that the goods were manufactured in the United States.”
The U.S. is legally barred from purchasing military goods from China.
“American servicemen and women risk their lives every day in defense of the nation,” U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha said in the release. “But the risks they face should never come from the uniforms they wear, and the equipment they carry.”
Kohanbash pleaded guilty in 2019 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and trafficking in counterfeit goods. He was sentenced Wednesday to 40 months in prison and to forfeit the proceeds.
He must also pay back companies that were involved in the development, manufacturing and importation of those goods. One Rhode Island company that was caught up in the scheme lost more than $639,000 in profits and suffered “significant damage” to its relationships with military clients, the Justice Department wrote.
Klein, 41, was sentenced to 18 months in jail plus three years of supervised release. He owes $415,000 in restitution and a fine.
Roe, 49, was later sentenced on Oct. 20 to two years in jail and three years on probation, according to the Associated Press. He pleaded guilty in February to wire fraud conspiracy and counterfeit trafficking.
The government has already recovered more than $2 million from Kohanbash, Klein and the Dakota Outerwear Company of Minot, North Dakota, in separate civil settlements. The company is located near Minot Air Force Base, which hosts B-52H nuclear-capable bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In 2019, the Air Force’s “Combat-Ready Airman” program became the central organization handling uniforms for the vast majority of airmen. The program aims to create a list of approved uniform products and suppliers and to enforce those procurement integrity rules, Kaufman said.
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.