Ex-Police Chief Rocky Pomerance Applies Seat-of-the-Pants Rules to Uncover Counterfeit Designer Denim

updated 06/22/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/22/1981 01:00AM

For the rest of us, unlike Brooke Shields whose jeans are straight from the designer, any number of things can come between us and our Calvins. Like, say, the counterfeiters muscling into the estimated $5 billion annual market. Already at least 10 percent of name-label jeans are produced illegally, and not even good old Levi's is safe: The firm recently unearthed an overseas plant fabricating 50,000 pairs of Levi's a month. Indeed, perhaps the only entrepreneur outrunning the manufacturers of unlicensed look-alikes is Rocky Pomerance, a counter-counterfeit agent hired by the designers; Rocky has been so successful, in fact, that his mug shot was found prominently displayed at one underground factory he helped bust.

Pomerance, 54, a former Miami Beach police chief who now heads two Florida-based security agencies, stumbled into leisure wear piracy when his seatmate on a 1978 flight turned out to be the worried chairman of a designer-apparel firm. Today Rocky Pomerance Associates employs six full-time investigators, two dozen part-timers and a network of tipsters just to trace garments falsely labeled with the logos of clients like Calvin Klein, Jordache, Izod Lacoste, Gloria Vanderbilt, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent.

Though Rocky jokes that "we get to look at girls' behinds all day—and it's business," he's convinced that those cashing in include "hard-nosed Mafia types. Rarely is the counterfeiter someone previously honest," he finds. "It's someone who runs a cash business and cheats on taxes, or uses illegal aliens." In fact, the indigo pipeline stretches from sweatshops in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the U.S. to a number of middlemen who deliver the bogus goods to bargain basements and sometimes reputable stores in all 50 states.

"The police are swamped by the rising crime rate and admit they don't have the money or manpower to comb 'factory outlet' stores," explains Pomerance. So his squad does the legwork—even, on occasion, setting up stings—and then calls in local authorities for the arrest. Puritan Fashions, which budgets $1 million a year to fight infringements on its Calvins line, is currently prosecuting alleged counterfeiters in 12 states on the basis of Rocky's sleuthing. Admits Pomerance: "Knowing law enforcement people across the country really helps."

Indeed, New York-born Rocky Pomerance has more than a nodding acquaintance with America's top cops. He joined the Miami Beach police department at 22 and became its chief just 14 years later. Rocky won plaudits in 1972 for his firm but compassionate handling of various protesters threatening to disrupt both the Democratic and Republican conventions in Miami Beach, and in 1974 he was named president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Pomerance retired in 1977 to set up his agencies (one is investigative, the other specializes in fire-and burglarproofing homes and businesses). With sons Kenneth, 28, and James, 26, working for Dad and daughter Vicky, 21, studying communications at Northwestern, Rocky and actress-model wife Hope (now starring in One-A-Day vitamin TV ads) live alone in their Mediterranean-style home. Pomerance is mulling a run for Miami Beach's mayoral seat come November—on, natch, an anticrime platform—but insists his main priority is rooting out denim of iniquity.

"It's almost predictable," he says. "The success of a brand name is now a guarantee of being counterfeited." Of late Rocky worries about designer togs for tots and carriage-trade goods. His firm has agreed to help Cartier crack down on phony timepieces (which sell for $30 to $150, vs. $2,300-plus for a real one). While conferring with a Florida assistant state attorney, Rocky noticed two secretaries wearing Cartier tank watches. They were, of course, fakes.

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