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Is I-85 a pipeline for bogus merchandise?

BUFORD -- The nervous South Carolinian consented to a search of the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu, but told officers, "You won't find anything in this car." Gwinnett police say that wasn't exactly the truth.

The officer who pulled the Malibu over Tuesday for tailgating a tractor-trailer on I-85 found inside it a bounty of counterfeit purses and clothing, bearing designer names like Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Prada. Officers estimated the cache was worth $10,000, then called in a counterfeit expert, a police report states.

The bogus merchandise had a destination that police say is becoming commonplace: South Carolina. More specifically, the Greenville area.

Two men -- Bradley Dendy and Greenville resident Fred Bennett -- were arrested, joining a string of Palmetto State residents reportedly caught ferrying black-market merchandise through Gwinnett this year, and thus charged with counterfeiting trademarks. The busy interstate has become something of a pipeline for bogus loot, but police aren't sure why.

"For whatever reason, folks around Greenville ... are aware that they can get reasonable quality knockoffs in Atlanta," said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith. "We catch one on the way back to (South Carolina) every few weeks, which begs the question, 'How many are we not catching?'" said Smith.

In this week's bust, Dendy told police his counterpart's wife sells the knockoffs bags in Greenville. Both were also charged with trafficking drugs, for the 112 grams of crack cocaine police allegedly found on Bennett. Neither have been granted bond.

The arrests mark at least the third similar interstate bust since February.

In April, Gwinnett police charged a man from Anderson, S.C. with trafficking thousands of dollars worth of bogus designer purses and hundreds of fake DVDs. The purse brands in question included Coach, Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabana and Michael Kors, the warrants state.

And in February, police uncovered an estimated $11,000 cache of Nike shoes in the trunk of a Pontiac during a traffic stop near Buford. All three suspects arrested were from South Carolina. One woman told police she'd been given the shoes at a flea market, police said.

Smith said it's reasonable to think the criminal community has spread word about the availability of bogus merchandise in metro Atlanta. He warned that those who buy or possess knockoff items can usually be charged, too.

"Certain circles are already aware that drugs can be purchased in Atlanta for reasonable prices," he said. "Often when we see the knockoffs, we see drugs, too."