LONDONDERRY — Peter Sapatis, 78, says he’s retired and just wants to put his legal troubles behind him.
But now that’s not going to happen for the former owner of the Londonderry Flea Market.
A U.S. District Court judge in Concord recently ruled against him in a bitter battle with Coach Inc., one of the world’s largest fashion accessory companies.
Judge Paul Barbadoro said Sapatis could be held partly liable in the 13-month case, but he disagrees, saying he hasn’t owned the flea market in more than five years.
“I’m very depressed,” Sapatis said Friday. “What they are claiming I don’t think is true.”
The New York-based corporation claims fake merchandise designed to look like its handbags and other accessories was sold by vendors at the flea market, cutting into its profits.
Coach has filed a $15 million lawsuit even though Sapatis sold his 27-year-old business to his daughter, Alaina Paul, in 2008 for $100,000. The company contends he’s also responsible for not preventing thousands of dollars in illegal counterfeit sales at the flea market.
“Coach wants me as much as they want the flea market,” he said. “That ($15 million) is about 100 times more than I’m worth.”
He still owns the Route 102 property, where the flea market regularly draws thousands of customers each summer and fall weekend. Sapatis said he provides advice to his daughter, but nothing more. She rents the site from him, Sapatis said.
“I’m strictly an adviser to my daughter, “ Sapatis said. “I want to help her as much as I can.”
But Coach’s lawyers claim that Sapatis is still very much involved in the flea market’s operation and should be held liable.
A surge in counterfeit goods sales in Southern New Hampshire in recent years, including fake Coach merchandise, has led to police raids of local flea markets and numerous arrests.
One well-known target was Grandview Flea Market on Island Pond Road in Derry, where authorities seized 13,278 counterfeit items during a raid in June 2009. That included more than 7,500 items with phony Coach emblems and designs.
So the company sued in April 2010, as part of its “Operation Turnlock” campaign to stop counterfeit merchandise sales, according to Coach lawyer Nancy Axilrod.
Grandview owner Martin Taylor of Salem was forced to close his business in 2011 after 31 years as part of a settlement with Coach.
Taylor said he tried to prevent counterfeit sales and denied allegations that he allowed vendors to sell phony merchandise. He put up a sign saying no counterfeit items could be sold there.
Even after a stricter state law was passed in 2009 to crack down on the sale of phony goods, police said they continued to arrest out-of-state vendors at Grandview, including many from New York.
In June 2011, two private investigators hired by Coach said they purchased counterfeit items at the Londonderry Flea Market. Additional counterfeit merchandise was bought during two subsequent visits, according to Coach. The company then sued.
Sapatis chastises Coach for taking legal action and not assisting in the effort to stop phony merchandise sales .
“We asked for help, we asked for help and we asked for help — and we never got it from them,” he said. “They elected to sue us instead of working with us.”
Sepatis said the case is expected to go to trial in about six months. Coach’s attorney, Jeffrey Techentin, could not be reached Friday for comment.