Customs Money Seizure of $376,510

Customs & Border Protection discusses a recent money seizure in a news release available by clicking HERE.  This time it was a Mexican national travelling from the U.S. to Mexico, who advised Customs that the items he was transporting in his truck were picked up at a swap meet. According to the story:

During the search of the truck, which was loaded with items the man said he purchased at a swap meet, officers found a box supposedly containing lawn furniture. The box actually contained seven packages of unreported U.S. currency totaling $348,840. The vehicle and cash were seized.

Then at the same port, on the same day and different man and vehicle were inspected, and:

During the search a zip-lock bag, a fast-food sack and a brownie mix box were discovered concealing unreported U.S. currency totaling $27,670.

A picture of this rich and chocolaty brownie mix was also included as part of the story.

These individuals were arrested and face charges for bulk cash smuggling under state law. If we assume he proves these two things, then this situation is regrettable for him and completely avoidable. But now, even if criminal charges are ultimately not filed or if they are ultimately found not guilty of a crime, they will still face civil forfeiture of the money and, if they want it back, will have to fight for its return administratively, or in the courts.If these individuals are found not guilty of a crime, then they face the  potentially difficult task of proving a legitimate source and legitimate intended use of the money. 

So, if you have had currency seized from Customs, I strongly advise against trying to do it yourself Get the advice of an attorney who knows what he is doing. If you do not, you might only make the situation worse by handling it on your own or hiring a lawyer who does not regularly handle these types of matters.

To inform yourself, please read the various articles I have written on this and related topics. But do not let it replace the advice of attorney who is familiar with the law and your particular circumstances. If you have questions, please give us a call at (734) 855-4999.

CBP Seizes Money at Texas Port of Entry

We bring these cases to our reader’s attention not because many honest people find themselves with thousands of dollars hidden underneath their vehicle’s floorboards in a secret compartment (although it has happened to some of my honest clients), but because they do allow me to bring to the public’s attention the laws surrounding the transportation of more than $10,000 in money across the border and seizure of that money.

Customs and Border Protection, in a recent news releaseCBP Seizes Money Texas Port Of Entry discusses the seizure of $80,000 as a result of a failed smuggling attempt to take the cash out of the country in a

concealed compartment and without filing a currency report disclosing the source of the money and intended use of the money. Thus, it was seized and the driver arrested for smuggling.

The news release states as follows:

CBP currency detector canines searched the vehicle and alerted to the floor. CBP officers and Border Patrol agents continued their search and located a hidden compartment in the floor of the vehicle. They removed multiple tape-wrapped bundles of money in the compartment.

If this individual is found not guilty of a crime, then he faces the  potentially difficult task of proving a legitimate source and legitimate intended use of the money. In this case, we could give the man the benefit of the doubt and presume the legitimate source is the proceeds the sale of valuable pieces of art to an eccentic U.S. art collector and the intended use, perhaps he was intending to open a small restaurant in Mexico City. That’s just my guess, and yes, I have handled more bizarre but true cases.

If we assume he proves these two things, then this situation is regrettable for him and completely avoidable. But now, even if criminal charges are ultimately not filed or if he is ultimately found not guilty of a crime, he will still face civil forfeiture of the money and, if he wants it back, will have to fight for its return administratively, or in the courts.

That brings me to the next point:

If you have had currency seized from Customs, do not go it alone. Get the advice of an attorney who knows what he is doing. If you do not, you might only make the situation worse by handling it on your own or hiring a lawyer who doesn’t regularly handle these cases.

To inform yourself, please read the various articles I have written on this and related topics. But do not let it replace the advice of attorney who is familiar with the law and your particular circumstances. If you have questions, please give us a call at (734) 855-4999.

CBP Seizes More Than $150,000 in Undeclared Money

Back on March 29, U.S. Customs officers intercepted $150,000 in unreported currency that was being transported from the United States across the border to Mexico. The story is well reported by the Yuma, Arizona news in this article you can read by clicking HERE.

The author correctly notes,

Individuals are permitted to carry any amount of currency or monetary instruments into or out of the U.S. However, if the quantity is $10,000 or higher, they must formally report the currency to CBP. Failure to declare may result in seizure of the currency and/or arrest. An individual may petition for the return of currency seized by CBP officers, but the petitioner must prove that the source and intended use of the currency was legitimate.

The money, both U.S. and Mexican currency, was concealed in a duffle bag and also hidden in unopened soda pop cans.

If you are transporting currency into or out of the United States, be sure you know what are getting yourself into. If you have already had your money seized by Customs, then make use of the articles we have published on this website so you can learn how to respond to a customs currency seizure.  Contact us by calling (734) 855-499 or by clicking here.

Bulk Cash Smuggling; Customs Currency Seizure

Arizona news is reporting that a Mexican national was caught trying to smuggle $90,000 in U.S. currency. The individual transporting the currency is being held for bulk cash smuggling charges.  The article has some interested pictures of the actual cash and its location. Apparently drug-sniffing dogs detected the presence of drugs in the vehicle (likely traces on the currency), which tipped them off the presence of the currency.

Legitimate source? Legitimate intended use? You be the judge!

You can read more about what constitutes bulk cash smuggling offense by clicking HERE. If you have had your cash seized by Customs you might find our article on responding to a U.S. Customs money/currency seizure helpful (click HERE to read it). You can also contact our office and speak to a customs attorney by call (734) 855-4999, or by clicking HERE.

Country of Origin Marking Requirements

In a global economy where a person can find products from every corner of the globe consumers are sometimes inclined to make their purchasing decisions based on the country of origin (meaning where the product is made and where it is imported from). Americans, for sure, like to base their decision of whether to buy certain products based on country of origin. We have all probably, at one time or another, been told to buy American, to look for a made in U.S.A. label, or not to buy anything from China or some other country. My grandpa, who grew up during World War II, wouldn’t buy anything made in Japan or Germany, and for a  time during the Iraq War there was a call among some to boycott French products for their unwillingness to join the U.S. efforts.

This sentiment is nothing new, and in fact, is the reason that all imports into the U.S. must be marked with the country of origin. Recognizing this tendency, Congress

Made in China Image
Country of Origin Mark

authored 19 U.S.C. § 1304 in order to specify the various rules and exceptions to the country of origin marking requirement, and set out penalties for failing to mark and/or properly identify the country of origin of imported products.

Marking Requirements for Country of Origin

This law plainly states that every foreign products or article entering the U.S. must bear a mark indicating the English name of its country of origin, unless the article fits into a listed exception, discussed below. The country of origin mark itself must meet two qualifications, simply stated:

  • First, it must be conspicuously located on the article;
  • Second, it must be legible, indelible, and permanent;

Id. at §1304(a). The reason for these requirements to enable the “ultimate purchaser” (i.e., the person who will receive the article in its imported form 19 CFR § 134.1(d)) to readily identify the article’s country of origin in case that will affect his decision to buy or not buy a particular product. Customs can require that certain articles be marked in a specific manner, without exception, by stamping, cast-mold lettering, etching, engraving, or cloth labels (e.g., coffee, tea, spices, manholes, pipes, fittings, etc.). 19 CFR § 134.42.

Interestingly, the country of origin marking requirement means if you cannot find a country of origin marking on a product or its container, you may presume that it was made in the United States, because there is no marking requirement under this law for non-imported products (it could also mean that the country of origin marks were intentionally destroyed, removed, or concealed, or that Customs failed to intercept violative country of origin marking).

Exceptions to the Country of Origin Marking Requirements

Exceptions to the country of origin marking requirement typically arise when marking an article is extremely difficult or purposeless to mark. For example, the statute can exempt particular articles which are physically incapable of being marked, cannot be marked prior to their shipment to the U.S., or are imported for the private use of the importer and not intended for sale in the U.S. Id. at §1304(a)(3). Even in those cases, however, while marking the article itself may be excepted, the law still requires the importer to mark the country of origin on the container of the article, like the packaging it comes in. Id. at §1304(b).

Exemptions could be available in a variety of circumstances.  For example, marking a product could be economically prohibitive to the article’s importation or injure the article, or the origin could be apparent without explicitly marking the article.

How U.S. Customs Treats Mismarked or Unmarked Imports

In the absence of the required country of origin mark on imported articles, Customs will ensure that unmarked imported products are denied entry in commerce, or if already released from Customs custody, they will be required to be returned via redelivery notice. Customs may impose and collect an additional duty of 10% of the article’s value before allowing release, an amount in addition to any other duties normally owed, if any. Id. at §1304(i). Before release, Customs will  require that the article be marked with the correct country of origin and until marked duties paid.  Id. at §1304(j).

What to do When U.S. Customs Takes Issue with Country of Origin and its Marking

If you have a question about proper country of origin marking, identifying the actual country of origin, and otherwise determining how to comply with the Customs rules concerning proper country of origin marking for imported products, you should consult with an attorney experienced in the customs and related laws. It is possible to get a prospective ruling from U.S. Customs product which you intend to import, and an attorney can arguing for a particular manner of country of origin marking. Contact out office today to discuss your problem and your options.

Feel free to use this article to supplement your own knowledge, but do not let it serve as a substitute for legal counsel familiar with the various restrictions and exceptions of the law.

U.S. Customs Money Seizure of $460,000 in Smuggled Currency

CBP reports that a money smuggling attempt in Nogales, Arizona, was stopped. This story looks similar in dollar amount — $464,00 seized – amount as a money seizure by U.S. Customs and Border Protection near the Port of Laredo, which I blogged about here.

Us Customs 460k Smuggled Money Seizure
Picture of currency hidden in a nightstand.

This time, though, instead of the money apparently being hidden in the vehicle itself, it looks like it was hidden in a nightstand. Either way, hiding it is most likely going to result in a charge of smuggling, which is basiscally what bulk cash smuggling amounts to.  This resulted in a seizure of the vehicle and the money itself.

For more information on money seizures by U.S. Customs, the reporting requirements, structuring violations, bulk cash smuggling, and how to get seized currency back, please visit our page devoted to discussion of currency seizures, and also read these articles:

And of course, if you have had your money seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, do not delay and call our office immediately at (734) 855-4999! You can also fill out our form and we will contact you, or drop us an e-mail by visiting our Contact page.

Reducing Penalties through Prior Disclosures of 1592 Import Violations

Importing into the United States requires the importer exercise reasonable care, but competitive market forces and human nature can create the temptation to reduce expenses and maximize profits by finding new ways to save money through questionable application of the customs laws. Failing to exercise reasonable care, however, means possibly being penalized by Customs for import violations under § 1592.1 This means, among other things, an importer must make sure that they are classifying the merchandise properly. under the correct duty rate, giving accurate dutiable values and descriptions for the merchandise, marking the country of origin correctly, and much more. Failure to do so could cost you dearly in the form of severe monetary penalties, among other potential penalties, imposed by Customs.

"I think we could lessen our penalty exposure if we make a valid prior disclosure."
“Say, our customs attorney says we can lessen our penalty exposure if we make a valid prior disclosure to U.S. Customs for those import violations we found.”

CBP encourages importers who may have committed a violation to make a “prior disclosure.” If an importer becomes aware of § 1592 violations, they should not wait for Customs to notify them of the violations and demand payment of duties and penalties; rather they should act immediately and pro-actively and disclose violations or potential violations to Customs so that they can take advantage of significant penalty reductions allowed for those who disclose violations prior to a Customs investigation. This “prior disclosure” process is a formal notice, usually in writing, made to Customs regarding the circumstances of a 1592 violation. 19 CFR § 162.74.

How to Make a Valid Prior Disclosure

For a prior disclosure to be valid, a person must first make the prior disclosure before, or without knowing, that Customs has begun a formal investigation into the potential violation2; also, if the amount of duty loss is known, tender any actual loss of duties, taxes and fees or actual loss of revenue to Customs. In addition to this, the person must disclose the circumstances of the violation, including:

(1) Identif[ying] the class or kind of merchandise involved in the violation;

(2) Identif[ying] the importation or drawback claim included in the disclosure by entry number, drawback claim number, or by indicating each concerned Customs port of entry and the approximate dates of entry or dates of drawback claims;

(3) Specif[ying] the material false statements, omissions or acts including an explanation as to how and when they occurred; and

(4) Set[ting] forth, to the best of the disclosing party’s knowledge, the true and accurate information or data that should have been provided in the entry or drawback claim documents, and stat[ing] that the disclosing party will provide any information or data unknown at the time of disclosure within 30 days of the initial disclosure date. [ . . . ]

19 CFR 162.74(b).

It should be noted that, because the issues that go into making a valid prior disclosure are often complex, when properly done a person can still initiate a valid prior disclosure while avoiding immediate payment of suspected duty loss, and get additional time to assemble all the necessary information.

How Penalties Can Be Reduced or Avoided

Meeting these requirements will qualify the person for substantial penalty reductions in the event that penalties are appropriate. In order for Customs not to levy penalties at all Customs must find the absence of fraud, the presence of negligence or gross negligence, and the merchandise must be unliquidated. In the case of negligence or gross negligence and liquidation has already occurred  the penalty will be “the interest on any loss of duties, taxes and fees” “at the prevailing rate of interest” under the Internal Revenue Code. 19 CFR § 162.73(b)(2).

If the violation is a result of fraud and a valid prior disclosure is made, the penalty may be reduced from the equivalent to the domestic value of the goods and to only the amount of lost duties, taxes and fees, or if not duty loss, then just 10% of the dutiable value.

If you believe or have a question about whether you should make a prior disclosure, or have concerns about representations made to Customs or omissions  it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney experienced in customs law and prior disclosures. Please contact our office today at (734) 855-4999, or by visiting our contact page.

  1. In summary, if any person does or attempts to enter or introduce merchandise into the United States by means of any material omission or material and false document, written or oral statement, or act that has the potential to alter the classification, appraisement, or admissibility of merchandise Customs will impose costly penalties on the violator. Bear in mind that Customs can impose penalties  – civil, criminal and monetary – under a variety of federal laws, not just under 1592. []
  2. A prior disclosure can still have some benefit after a investigation has begun []

U.S. Customs money seizure in Maine

The Bangor Daily News out of Maine reports on some noteworthy monetary instruments seizures in 2012 by U.S. Customs, including this one:

In one incident the agency highlighted, two Houlton Border Patrol agents seized $89,808 in U.S. currency, $10,440 in Western Union traveler’s checks and $200 in Canadian currency from two men from Canada.

The money was apparently was connected with:

. . . a telephone fraud scheme that preyed on the elderly. The scam involved the subjects advising the elderly of a grandchild or other relative desperately in need of money, and instructing them to wire funds. The victims were subsequently bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. US Canada Border Marker

[  . . . ] The $100,448 initially seized by Border Patrol agents was returned to 18 of the victims.

No mention of the exact legal basis under which the money was seized, or exactly how this fraud scheme became unraveled at the border. I suspect somebody was trying to smuggling the money of the country to evade detection, and taxes, when CBP made the discovery and began putting the puzzle pieces back together.

If you have had currency seized from Customs, do not go it alone. Get the advice of an attorney who knows what he is doing. If you do not, you might only make the situation worse by handling it on your own or hiring an inexperienced lawyer. You worked hard for your money, so be sure to protect it. If you have questions, please give us a call.

To further inform yourself, please read the various articles I have written on this and related topics. But do not let it replace the advice of attorney who is familiar with the law and your particular circumstances.

Trademark Infringement: Importing Gray Market Goods and Seizure by Customs

Importers purchasing products from abroad may find that they bought more than they bargained for if the merchandise bears a trademark or trade name.  For the protection of registered U.S. trademarks and trade names U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP” or “Customs”) limits the admissibility of foreign trademarks or trade names1 if they appear virtually identical to those already registered in the US. Ultimately, Customs may seize and forfeit imported gray market goods and impose fines and penalties on the importer. 19 CFR 133.23.

Gray Market Goods Defined

Gray market goods are articles manufactured abroad that bear either a genuine trademark or trade name that is either identical to, or substantially indistinguishable from, a trademark or trade name owned and recorded by a United States citizen or corporation. 19 CFR 133.23(a). The concept can be a bit confusing, but key to understanding is to remember that gray market goods bear a legitimate trademark or trade name but are imported into the U.S. without the consent of the owner of the U.S. trademark.  In other words, when a trademark or trade name has been applied to merchandise for use in a foreign country but are imported into the United States, then the goods bearing that trade mark or trade name are considered gray market goods.

Container Ship

The term gray market goods is used to distinguish them from goods that might be sold on black market; gray market goods are sold through legal but unauthorized or unintended channels of commerce. Gray market goods are different from counterfeit goods by the genuineness of their trade mark or trade name; counterfeit goods carry a trademark or trade name which the law calls “spurious.” Sometimes used or refurbished goods fall in the category of gray market goods, and particular laws apply to their lawful importation.

Restricted Entry for Certain Gray Market Goods

Trademarks  and trade names of U.S. owners are entitled to protection against imports of gray market goods under two conditions.  First, the U.S. owner must register its mark with CBP through the Intellectual Property Rights e-Recordation (IPRR) system. Second, the U.S. trademark and the foreign trademark must be owned by two different people or companies2.  The satisfaction of these conditions subjects all incoming gray market goods to “restricted” scrutiny, and Customs identifies them as such in its IPRR database; if the conditions  have not been satisfied, the goods are deemed non-restricted.

CBP will almost invariably detain restricted gray market goods for up to 30 days; and what transpires within that time will ultimately determine their seizure and eventual forfeiture or their release. 19 CFR §§ 133.23, 133.25.

Due to a counterfeit’s total lack of authenticity, the statutory penalties for attempting to import a good bearing counterfeit mark are more severe than those for attempting to import an infringing gray good. For the most part, however, the procedures for determining whether an allegedly counterfeit mark should be released or seized do not differ from those of gray goods, set forth below. 19 CFR 133.21.

The Road to Release

When a gray good is detained, the importer bears the burden of establishing that its mark fits one of the exceptions, such as showing that the foreign trademark or trade name was applied under the authority of the foreign owner who is the same as the U.S. owner; or, the foreign and domestic goods on which the marks or names are  identical physically and materially. The rationale of this difference-demanding exception may seem counterintuitive; however, the objective of grayRoadmarket rules is to prevent an influx of products which will cause customer confusion. If the marks or names of the products are nearly identical, as is always the case with gray market goods, their physical or material components must also be so similar that the average buyer in the marketplace is not likely to be confused as to the source of the products. 19 CFR 133.23(d). Showing the the imported goods qualify for one these exceptions allows Customs to release them.

A key to successfully challenging detention is requesting a sample of seized or detained merchandise suspected, or alleged, to bear a counterfeit or infringing trademark.

The Road to Seizure

Although this article does not deal with counterfeits directly, it is worthy mentioning that harsher penalties await counterfeit items. CBP has the authorization to obliterate the counterfeit mark or name and destroy the goods if there is no safe way to recycle them. 19 CFR 133.21. CBP may also impose fines on individuals who aid or direct the importation of goods bearing a counterfeit mark or name with the intent of public distribution. The first fine will not be more than the amount the goods would have had if they were genuine. For the second and every subsequent seizure, the fine will not exceed twice that amount. 19 CFR 133.27.

Bearing in mind the goals of preventing customer confusion and ensuring imported are products safe, CBP is authorized to take certain steps to ensure that infringing goods never reach the channels of commerce. An importer’s failure show the applicability of the foregoing exceptions within the 30 day detention period will trigger seizure and forfeiture proceedings. 19 CFR 133.23(f). Additionally, within the 30 day window, CBP may alert the U.S. owner of the presence of the gray goods to obtain assistance in determining whether the gray goods infringe upon the trademark or trade name of the U.S. owner. The U.S. owner may then procure a sample of the imported goods for a more detailed examination. 19 CFR 133.25. If CBP, aided by the efforts of the U.S. owner, finds that the gray goods infringe upon the trademark or trade name of the U.S. owner, it may seize the goods and commence with forfeiture proceedings. 19 CFR 133.23(f).

Still Hope

In the event of seizure and forfeiture, the importer retains its rights to contest the seizure and forfeiture, including the right to samples of seized merchandise and to petition Customs for relief from the forfeiture. Petitions for Relief and/or lawsuits in the federal district court’s can raise important issues and challenge the basis for seizure by, among other issues, contesting whether the goods are, in fact, gray market goods, whether they differ in quality, whether there is likelihood of confusion, the legitimacy of the source, the authority under which the trademark was applied, and others.

If your goods have been seized or forfeited, or if you are are importing goods bearing a trademark or trade name which is similar to one already registered in the U.S., it is in your best interest to obtain the advice of an attorney with experience in Customs laws and the laws surrounding intellectual property. As you can see, the process of clearing an item through the border can be a nuanced process in which time constraints and complex factual questions play a critical role.

Feel free to use this article to supplement your own knowledge, but do not let it serve as a substitute for legal counsel familiar with the various restrictions and exceptions of the law. Please do not hesitate to contact our office to assist you in taking the next step.

  1. Sometimes collectively called “marks” here []
  2. Furthermore, the companies cannot subject to common ownership or common control — such as parent companies and subsidiaries, etc. []

U.S. Customs currency seizures at the ports

As should be expected because of the shared border with Mexico, Laredo news has reports of two other 

Money black hole

significantly large currency seizures; one from another Chicagoan who was found to be transporting $214,925 in unreported currency in her vehicle and, more interestingly, and a 21 year old  Washingtonian who was transporting $115,594 in currency hidden in seven bundles underneath her clothing.

Both seizures occurred the same day and at the same location. As before, the Laredo news does a decent job of getting the law on this topic right, which I have explained before here by noting that you can petition for the return of the currency and that the person transporting the unreported currency is subject to arrest for criminal violations.

That brings me to the next point:

If you have had currency seized from CBP it is a serious matter – the law is complex, and any mistake can cost you dearly. Please give us a call and we will provide you with a free telephone consultation. To further inform yourself, you can also read the various articles we have written on this and related topics.