Talk about a Royal embarrassment.
In October 2014, the actions of two Kansas City agents from the Department of Homeland Security generated critical national headlines as the Royals were making their run to become American League champions. The agents, both with guns on their hips, entered the tiny Birdies lingerie shop in the Crossroads on Oct. 21, 2014, on what quickly was dubbed a federal “panty raid.”
The officers secured in their plastic evidence bag a scant 55 pairs of women’s and men’s underwear bearing an interlocking KC logo that was seen as copyright infringement.
The panties were so fresh, “the cotton was still warm from the printer,” Birdies owner Peregrine Honig recalled this week. She had ordered the small lot as a show of civic pride and Royals fandom.
The raid was lambasted across the political spectrum as an example of governmental overreach, an assault on small businesses or a waste of taxpayers’ money and Homeland Security personnel.
Now a Freedom of Information Act request by the news organization Vice Sports has revealed what it calls “the intimate details” that initiated the raid.
Included in the story, which provides more than 100 pages of documents, is an email from an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that suggests the raid was motivated by an assistant U.S. attorney hoping to increase successful case numbers.
The unnamed officer’s email is quoted.
“They (the Kansas City office) are trying to get their (numbers) up and will accept any leads for controlled delivery in Kansas or Missouri, even if they do not meet the criteria because the AUSA Prosecutor is eager.”
The raid apparently was part of an effort known as Operation Team Player to intercept counterfeit goods related to professional sports.
“For me, the biggest surprise was that the ICE agents really went out of their way to get Birdies,” Vice Sports reporter Aaron Gordon told The Star in an email. “They heard a radio talk show casually discussing that some local shop was selling Royals underwear. So the agents had to Google around, search on Facebook, find the post and go down to the shop.
“At this point, Birdies had sold maybe 10 pairs. It’s not like the agents happened to stroll by the store and see the underwear (which, it should be noted, is what ICE’s press officer told me occurred before I informed him the documents said otherwise).”
Shawn Neudauer, ICE spokesman in Kansas City, called the moves by the agents “really nothing new or particularly interesting. Though perhaps a bit titillating to those unfamiliar with the way U.S. customs laws are enforced.”
“The basics were there was a business owner in the area blatantly counterfeiting a copyrighted logo of a hometown team,” Neudauer said in an email to The Star. “But rather than prosecute, we chose to seize and destroy the items and let it go at that.”
It has been 19 months since the raid. Honig said she understands why the mixture of panties and baseball and Homeland Security generated headlines and talk of panty raids.
“It was not funny. It was scary,” Honig said. She said she felt her entire business was being threatened because of a few pairs of underwear.
“It’s not just that I’m leery of law enforcement, I’m wary. I consider myself to be patriotic,” she said. “But that was a situation that I did not feel was the best use of government.”
No charges were filed and no fines were levied, Honig said. In 2015, even though the Royals went on to win the World Series, her shop didn’t sell any similar Royals merchandise.
“It seemed like a lot of work for such a small indiscretion,” she said.
Gordon, the reporter, said documents reveal that’s not the way the government sees it.
“As for the takeaway: ICE considers the Birdies raid a success,” Gordon told The Star. “They think seizing about 50 pairs of underwear was a good use of government resources.
“I think that says it all.”