PITTSBURGH (AP) – A western Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty Monday to selling thousands of counterfeit, Chinese-made DVDs on eBay, all while twice running for the General Assembly.
Michael See, 34, ran as a Republican in 2010 and 2012, losing narrowly both times to Democratic state Rep. Jaret Gibbons. Gibbons has represented the 10th House District, which includes parts of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties since being elected in 2006.
In court before a federal judge on Monday, See pleaded guilty to wire fraud and copyright infringement. The plea deal calls for $430,000 in restitution to be paid to the Motion Picture Association of America. He’ll be sentenced Oct. 6 and faces up to 20 years in prison, though he’ll likely face far less under guidelines that take into account his lack of a criminal record.
Defense attorney Efrem Grail told U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak that the DVD sales were fueled by See’s gambling addiction, but he didn’t offer specifics and declined comment afterward. See told the judge he lives with his parents in Beaver County, and was allowed to remain free until he’s sentenced.
See earned 48 percent of the vote in the 2010 general election, losing to Gibbons, who tallied 52 percent. Two years later, Gibbons defeated See 53 percent to 47 percent. He also lost when he ran against Beaver County Controller David Rossi in 2011.
In the second election, See promised to never take a taxpayer-paid pension, per diem expenses or a taxpayer-funded vehicle. He listed his occupation as “student” on state ethics forms in 2012, and his campaign website said he has a bachelor’s degree in government from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and an MBA from American Intercontinental University, an online, for-profit school based in Schaumburg, Illinois.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shardul Desai told the judge that See bought the copyright-violating videos from a Chinese distributor from January 2010 until January 2015 and re-sold them on eBay.
At one point, eBay officials shut down See’s account, but the online auction site lifted the ban after See convinced eBay officials that his products were legitimate, though Desai didn’t explain how that was done.
Among other titles, See sold knock-off DVDs of the cable TV series “The Wire,” “Homeland,” and “Scandal,” and the network TV show “Big Bang Theory” and the movies “Once Upon A Time”, “The Lego Movie” and “Harry Potter.”
Desai and the criminal information charging See don’t say how many movies he re-sold on eBay, but said federal agents seized more than 1,700 DVDs and box sets when they raided his home last year.
The restitution is being paid to the MPAA so the agency can then distribute the money to various movie and TV production companies who lost royalties on the sales. An MPAA spokesman could not immediately say how many counterfeit DVDs were involved, or how the restitution was calculated.