South Florida

She hobnobbed with Miami socialites — while running a designer-handbag scam, feds say

Meghana Rajadhyaksha, of Miami, poses after winning the Longines Prize for Elegance fashion contest on Longines Kentucky Oaks Day, Friday, May 4, 2018 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.  Longines, the Swiss watch manufacturer known for its luxury timepieces, is the Official Watch and Timekeeper of the 144th annual Kentucky Derby.
Meghana Rajadhyaksha, of Miami, poses after winning the Longines Prize for Elegance fashion contest on Longines Kentucky Oaks Day, Friday, May 4, 2018 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.  Longines, the Swiss watch manufacturer known for its luxury timepieces, is the Official Watch and Timekeeper of the 144th annual Kentucky Derby. AP

She has a thing for luxury handbags — Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton.

The society maven, who is always impeccably dressed at gala charity benefits in Miami, likes to snap up those pricey bags online, the feds say.

But Meghana Rajadhyaksha also returns them just as fast for thousands of dollars in refunds.

For the past two years, Rajadhyaksha has been running a high-fashion retail scam through the internet and mail, according to a federal criminal complaint charging the 39-year-old Coral Gables woman with fraud.

Rajadhyaksha was returning handbag knockoffs instead of the actual designer bags and obtaining refunds from a major retailer — while keeping the real high-priced merchandise, according to the complaint disclosed Wednesday.

These tips will help you be more aware of illegal counterfeit items sold overseas and how they harm the U.S. economy.

It is not clear from the criminal complaint what she did with the actual handbags — did she keep them or sell them? The designer bags sold for $1,000 to $2,000 each. And where did she acquire the alleged counterfeits — on the internet or New York’s Canal Street? The complaint doesn’t say.

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Rajadhyaksha — who is often photographed with a designer handbag at fundraising events at Vizcaya, the Faena Forum and the Pérez Art Museum Miami — spent Tuesday night in a federal lockup after being arrested at her waterfront home on mail- and wire-fraud charges. She made her first appearance in federal court Wednesday and was released on a $250,000 bond.

Her defense attorney, Christopher Lyons, declined to discuss the details of the allegations, saying “it would be premature at this time.”

“She is extremely distraught over this and her primary focus right now is on her family,” Lyons told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “However, she wanted to thank the federal agents for the professionalism that they extended to her and her family throughout the process.”

Rajadhyaksha, whose husband, Amar Dilip Rajadhyaksha, is an orthopedic surgeon, regularly hobnobs with the high-society crowd in Miami. Last June, she attended the birthday luncheon of the Miami Herald’s former “Queen of the Night” columnist, publicist Tara Solomon, at the Faena Hotel in Miami Beach. The dress code for Solomon’s birthday party at the glamorous hotel’s Los Fuegos restaurant was leopard, with guests wearing a variety of animal prints. Rajadhyaksha was among Solomon’s group of 30 guests, according to one published report.

Rajadhyaksha, who moved to Miami from Detroit and owned a motel, appeared on the radar of retailer T.J. Maxx in November 2017, according to the criminal complaint. Company investigators suspected her of committing fraud by ordering high-end handbags on its e-commerce website, using PayPal for the credit-card purchases, and then returning the expensive merchandise for refunds over and over again, the complaint says.

The retailer conducted its own investigation and then alerted the U.S. Secret Service, which specializes in counterfeit probes.

“Rajadhyaksha has placed dozens of orders for and received original handbags, which were later returned with substitute handbags to trigger refunds to [her],” says the Secret Service complaint, which was filed by prosecutor Stephanie Hauser this week.

Last year, T.J. Maxx investigators began carefully monitoring her orders of fancy handbags, including a Dolce and Gabbana Welcome Handbag with Painted Flowers, priced at $2,000.

Before shipping the merchandise to her $1.7 million home in the Riviera section of Coral Gables, T.J. Maxx investigators marked the handbags with ultraviolet ink that would not be visible to the naked eye without a black light, the complaint says. The retailer’s investigators soon discovered that Rajadhyaksha repeatedly returned the merchandise with the T.J. Maxx tags to obtain refunds, but the handbags did not have the UV ink marking.

The investigators kept track of dozens of requests for refunds, but the bags returned by Rajadhyaksha were counterfeit, the retailer says in the complaint.

Then, in late February of this year, the complaint says Rajadhyaksha placed an order with T.J. Maxx on its e-commerce site for a Valentino Candystud, a Gucci Marmont and a Fendi convertible crossbody clutch.

Last month, T.J. Maxx joined forces with the Secret Service to zero in on her in an undercover operation. On March 13, a Secret Service agent dressed as a UPS agent delivered the three handbags — Valentino, Gucci and Fendi — to Rajadhyaksha’s Coral Gables home, the complaint says. That afternoon, she went to the UPS store on South Dixie Highway in Coral Gables and shipped the merchandise back to T.J. Maxx, video surveillance footage shows.

Two days later, when the handbags were received at T.J. Maxx’s e-commerce center in Tennessee, investigators found that she returned counterfeit handbags instead of the actual merchandise to obtain her refunds.

“When the returned handbags arrived, the T.J. Maxx investigators photographed and recorded a detailed written description of the returned handbags, and checked the interior of the handbags with a black light for the UV ink marking,” according to the complaint.

“Based on the inspection, T.J. Maxx determined that the returned handbags were not T.J. Maxx merchandise, even though the returned handbags had T.J. Maxx tags attached.”

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