SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah strike force that targets crimes by undocumented immigrants has made what they are calling the biggest bust of pirated movies and music in state history.
Agents arrested six people in Ogden on Thursday morning in connection to pirating movies and music. The next day, they arrested two more people they suspect are connected to distributing pirated media out of a Salt Lake City produce warehouse.
On Monday, the Utah Attorney General's Office announced the results of the busts: 21,000 CDs and 8,071 DVDs, altogether worth $345,861.
"The operation was very important," because it targeted distributors, not sellers, said Marcus Cohen, western region director of investigations for the Recording Industry Association of America. "This was a much higher level of investigation."
Two more people with prior criminal histories also were arrested in Ogden for re-entering the U.S. after they had been deported.
The men arrested in Ogden have since been charged in 2nd District Court.
Most of the men face a variety of charges, ranging from forgery to racketeering.
The Utah Attorney General's Office expects the men arrested in Salt Lake City will be charged today.
A 2010 bust on forged documentation, such as Social Security cards, led the strike force to this bust.
Utah Attorney General's Office Chief Deputy Kirk Torgensen said the nine-month investigation opened his eyes to the size and impact of pirated movies and music crime, which not many people talk about.
"I've become convinced that this crime is huge," he said. "I was staggered to find out how much money this costs in legitimate terms."
The U.S. economy loses $12.5 billion and about 70,000 jobs each year because of piracy, according to the RIAA.
"Piracy is stealing, and it doesn't just keep Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie from making a few more dollars," said Attorney General Mark Shurtleff in a statement. "This crime affects artists, writers, directors, backup singers, stage crew workers and every taxpayer in the U.S."
The pirated movies and music were almost entirely shipped into Utah from California via trains, trucks and airplanes. Once here, distributors pass the material along to smaller distributors, who would in turn do the same again, until they wind up in stores and swap meets, Taylor said.
"Movies that would come out Friday, within a couple days they'd be selling them," said Rhett McQuiston, who is with the strike force. An evidence photo shows a DVD cover of "Season of the Witch," starring Nicolas Cage, which was released in theaters last month.
The movies and music usually sell for $5 to $10. Most of the music was high quality. The movie quality ranged from a shaky camera recording, with the silhouette of someone's head blocking part of the screen, to a product that's mistakable for a DVD.
Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, noted the Hispanic and other immigrant communities' support of the law enforcement crackdowns, as they remove the criminal element from their neighborhoods. "(They) are often victims of these crimes in particular," he said.
The Utah Attorney General's Office expects to make more busts in the coming months.