U.S. Sues to Halt Sale of Unsafe Imported Toys


The Justice Department on Monday sued seven of the nation’s biggest toy importers and distributors to bar them from selling imported toys that the Consumer Product Safety Commission said failed to meet federal health and safety standards.

Moving against companies such as Toys R Us Inc., Child World Inc. and Lionel Leisure Inc., along with their chief executives, the government alleged dangers ranging from rattles with small parts that could choke young children to toys coated with toxic levels of lead-based paint.

Although most of the toys were labeled for children over 3 years of age, the commission found they actually were intended for younger children and thus violated commission regulations. “Poorly designed toys pose a significant threat to the most vulnerable members of our society--small children,” Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh said in announcing the suits, which seek preliminary injunctions.


Other corporate defendants included Value Merchants Inc., Illco Toy Co., Beachcombers International Inc., Division Sales Inc. and its affiliated partnership, Justen Products.

“The government is unaware of any deaths or injuries caused by products manufactured by any of the seven defendants,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Susan E. Birenbaum, the commission’s acting general counsel, alleged that the defendants had violated commission regulations on hazardous toys over a period of years, making “some kind of injunctive relief necessary.”

Responses varied widely from officials of the companies who could be reached.

A spokesman for Toys R Us in Paramus, N.J., who declined to give his name, said the firm had not yet received the legal papers but added that the suit is “totally without merit and a waste of taxpayers’ money.” Toys R Us Chief Executive Charles Lazarus and Chief Operating Officer Michael Goldstein also are named as defendants.

The complaint filed against Toys R Us cited incidents that took place during 1987-90 in which commission investigators obtained rattles that failed to comply with CPSC regulations, merchandise that didn’t meet regulations for toys with small parts and musical toys that fell short of regulations concerning lead-containing paint.

Unless the injunction is issued, the complaint said, “there is a substantial likelihood” that Toys R Us will continue to deliver rattles and toys “that are banned hazardous substances” and sell and import toys bearing “lead-containing paint.”

Robert E. Gordon, a Chicago lawyer representing Division Sales and Justen Products of Itasca, Ill., said the lawsuit against the companies and Morton Marks, president of Division and a partner in Justen, involved products that they had immediately taken off the market after being notified of their hazards.

Gordon contended that the suits were filed “to harass us into a settlement” that would allow the government to inspect its facilities repeatedly and without notice.

The complaint against Division and its affiliate cited six instances during 1987-89 of investigators finding samples that failed to meet regulations for toys with small parts.

All of the toys named in the complaints, uncovered by investigators for the commission and the U.S. Customs Service, were imported, the Justice Department said, adding that a large portion of toys made for sale in the United States are made by factories not affiliated with U.S. toy makers.

“These cases emphasize the need for American companies to ensure that foreign-made toys are of the same legally required standards as U.S.-manufactured toys which are produced under tight quality controls,” said Leslie Southwick, deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s civil division.