Saying they had uncovered the largest video piracy operation yet seen in the United States, on Monday officials in New York City announced the arrests of 36 people on charges of producing and distributing hundreds of thousands of videotapes of American first-run movies and Asian karate and pornographic films.
The sophisticated nationwide operation, led by two related families of Israeli immigrants, the Halalis and the Sudrys of Brooklyn, produced over 100,000 videos and grossed over $500,000 a week, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said Monday. It made its own blank tapes, copied stolen videos in round-the-clock "factories," distributed the pirated tapes, and even franchised its operation for a fee.Some of the videos recovered in a large-scale seizure by the police last Thursday were of movies that had not yet been released in theaters.
In raids at the operation's headquarters, Amerson Video, at 117 and 127 West 26th St. in Manhattan and at three "labs" in Brooklyn on Thursday, the police found more than 100,000 videotapes, 100 million feet of video film, machinery to make blank cassettes, more than 800 videocassette recorders, plastic video sleeves, machinery for shrink-wrapping cassettes and master copies of movies.
One lab at the operation's headquarters at Amerson video produced 15,000 to 30,000 videotapes each week. By contrast, a video pirating operation raided two years ago in Westchester County, N.Y., was able to produce only 2,200 tapes a day.
Sophisticated copies of cover designs for such movies as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Mission: Impossible" were among the slickly packaged videos on display in Morgenthau's office Monday. The video pirates paid such attention to detail, Morgenthau said, that they even affixed the standard FBI warnings on illegal counterfeiting.
Among the leaders of the operation who have been arrested over the last four days are Yeheskel Halali, his son Yeoshua Halali, and brothers Asher and Nissim Sudry, all charged with, among other things, manufacture of an unauthorized recording of a performance, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
The ring distributed its wares not only in Manhattan - at a string of storefronts on 125th Street, for instance - but also to stores in Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and the District of Columbia, officials said. The Halali-Sudrys sold counterfeit copies for as little as $4, they said.