Tag: fines penalties and forfeitures

Customs Airport Money Seizure of nearly $200k

Customs officers conducting currency seizures last week in Philadelphia were busy. As reported by customs, they seized currency totaling $188,830 from three different sets of  travelers arriving into the United States. Our customs law firm handles currency/money seizures made by customs in Detroit and around the country; call (734) 855-4999 to consult with a customs lawyer today.

The story told below is common among our currency seizure clients; their money was returned and they were not arrested, which indicates that customs did not suspect that the seized money was being transported as part of any criminal activity. In fact, the Iraqis who had their currency seized by customs were likely fleeing the escalating violence in Iraq and taking along with them their life savings, or a big chunk of it, to seek safety in the United States.

Here are the details from customs:

PHILADELPHIA ‚ÄĒ U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized a combined $188,830 during three federal currency reporting violations Monday through Wednesday at Philadelphia International Airport.

In the first seizure, a Ghanaian man, arrived Monday and reported that he possessed $9,400 in U.S. dollars and 80 Euros. During a baggage inspection, CBP officers discovered stacks of unreported U.S. Dollars, Euros and Ghana Cedi. CBP officers seized $39,500 and released the man.

In the second seizure, a couple from Iraqi, arrived Tuesday and reported that they possessed $10,000 in U.S. dollars and some Iraqi currency. During a baggage inspection, CBP officers discovered six bundles and loose currency of unreported U.S. Dollars, Iraqi Dinars and Qatari Riyal. CBP officers seized $111,000 and released the couple.

In the third seizure, a U.S. man and lawful permanent resident woman, arrived Wednesday and reported that they possessed a combined $15,000. During an inspection, CBP officers discovered three bundles of consecutively numbered $100 bills and additional U.S. currency. CBP officers seized $38,330 and released the couple.

There is no limit to how much currency travelers may bring to, or take from the U.S.; however, federal law requires travelers to report to CBP amounts exceeding $10,000 in U.S. dollars or equivalent foreign currency. Travelers who refuse to comply with federal currency reporting requirements run the risk of having their currency seized, and may potentially face criminal charges.

‚ÄúU.S. Customs and Border Protection officers permitted these travelers multiple opportunities to truthfully report all currency in their possession and they failed to comply. The easiest way to hold on to one‚Äôs currency is to truthfully report all of it to a CBP officer,‚ÄĚ said Susan Stranieri, CBP Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia.

The Ghanaian man arrived from Frankfurt. The couples in the latter two cases arrived from Iraq via Qatar. None of the five travelers were criminally charged.

If you have had money seized by Detroit CBP/customs, call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs nationwide, including Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Orlando.

Please read these other articles from our customs law blog:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. CustomsKeep Calm and Declare Monetary Instruments Exceeding $10,000 USD
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. How do I get my seized money back from customs?
  8. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  9. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?
  10. Targeted Enforcement for Customs Money Seizures

Customs Currency Seizure in Philly

Below is a news release¬†concerning a $40,359 customs currency seizure for failure to report, which based on the report seems like the currency was seized not only for mis/failure to report of currency, but also because it was concealed inside clothing and the lining of his baggage, which customs considers bulk cash smuggling.¬†We handle currency seizure cases just like this that occur at the Detroit airport and land border crossings like the Detroit/Windsor-Tunnel and Ambassador Bridge on a regular basis, and have been very successful in getting our client’s money back from customs. ¬†If you have had money seized by Detroit CBP/customs,¬†call our office at¬†(734) 855-4999¬†to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our¬†contact page.

Apparently, customs was satisfied that this person was not involved in any blatantly obvious criminal behavior because he was not arrested and apparently will not be criminally charged. That means that, in order to get his money back from customs, he will have to prove that the seized money came from a legtimate source and that he intended it for a legitimate use (e.g., nothing illegal). On to the full story:

PHILADELPHIA ‚ÄĒ U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized $39,500 from a Ghanaian man for violating federal currency reporting regulations Monday at Philadelphia International Airport.

The man, whose name isn’t being released because he wasn’t criminally charged, arrived from Frankfurt about 4 p.m. A CBP officer referred him to a routine secondary baggage examination.

The man reported to CBP officers, both verbally and in writing, that he possessed $9,400 in U.S. dollars and 80 Euros. The baggage exam revealed two stacks of U.S. currency and Ghana Cedi inside clothing and the baggage liner. A currency verification revealed $39,500 in U.S. dollars, 80 Euros and 2,280 Ghana Cedi, for a combined $40,359 in equivalent U.S. dollars.

CBP seized $39,500 and returned the foreign currency to the man for humanitarian purposes.

There is no limit to how much currency travelers may bring to, or take from the U.S.; however, federal law requires travelers to report to CBP amounts exceeding $10,000 in U.S. dollars or equivalent foreign currency. Travelers who refuse to comply with federal currency reporting requirements run the risk of having their currency seized, and may potentially face criminal charges.

‚ÄúU.S. Customs and Border Protection officers permitted this traveler multiple opportunities to truthfully report all currency in his possession. Hopefully, this is a lesson to all travelers that the easiest way to hold on to their currency is to truthfully report it all to a CBP officer,‚ÄĚ said Susan Stranieri, CBP Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia.

If you have had money seized by Detroit CBP/customs, call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs nationwide, including Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Orlando.

Please read these other articles from our customs law blog:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. CustomsKeep Calm and Declare Monetary Instruments Exceeding $10,000 USD
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. How do I get my seized money back from customs?
  8. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  9. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?
  10. Targeted Enforcement for Customs Money Seizures

Detroit Customs Seizes Imported Machine Gun

Customs in Detroit recently seized a firearm, as detailed in a local and interesting news release. In this case the firearm was a .50 caliber machine gun. The original story is available here, but it is reproduced in full below. The only information we have available is that which is in the news release, which is a bit foggy on the details, but nevertheless it appears this was primarily a problem with insufficient and incorrect/misleadings documents presented to customs at the time of entry into the United States. The driver of the commercial cargo van only presented a manifest and a “generic email” the described the shipments as machine gun parts when, allegedly, it was an “assembled” U.S. origin machine gun (picture below, appears disassembled but more than just “parts” as described by the manifest).

Ultimately, Customs seized the gun apparently not because it was prohibited from entry, but because the importer “failed to satisfy federal importation procedures [regarding] documentation, manifest, bill of lading, entry type, proper invoice, tariff classification and proper disclosure of intent.” ¬†The story below:

DETROIT- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Fort Street Cargo Facility in Detroit seized a .50-caliber machine gun during a cargo inspection. .50 Cal Machine Gun Seized at Fort Street Cargo Facility
Detroit Customs Machine Gun SeizureOn May 13, a commercial cargo van arrived at the cargo facility with only a copy of an electronic manifest and no invoice to describe the cargo. The only information about the shipment provided by the driver was the manifest, listing the shipment as Cal Machine gun parts and a generic email. The shipment was in fact, an assembled .50 caliber machine gun manufactured by an Ohio company.

After consultation with Homeland Security Investigations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and agents from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), CBP officers seized the machine gun as the shipment failed to satisfy federal importation procedures in regards to documentation, manifest, bill of lading, entry type, proper invoicing, tariff classification and proper disclosure of intent.

‚ÄúBoth CBP and the importing community have a shared responsibility to maximize compliance with laws and regulations. CBP encourages importers to be familiar with applicable laws and regulations, especially when there are specific requirements related to a particular commodity,‚ÄĚ said Rod Blanchard, CBP Port Director in Detroit.

A monetary penalty was assessed against the importer and the weapon was returned to Canada.

Importers and travelers should visit www.atf.gov for importation information for firearms.

Based on the story, it seems that all of these problems could have been avoided if the importer had done their customs law homework and either consulted with or hired a customs broker prior to attempting to import the machine gun into the United States. Here is where the story gets a little more confused; although it seems customs seized the machine gun, it also seems that the seizure was shortly remitted and allowed to be shipped back to Canada.

The bad news is that the importer was already assessed a penalty (also, if true, that’s a fast turn around for a penalty from customs — it can sometimes take months). Great Lakes Customs Law¬†handles penalty mitigation¬†proceedings (some history of our success is HERE) and, if not already done, this importer should seriously consider trying to get the penalty mitigated if the amount is high. I do wonder what the penalty amount and basis is for this particular alleged violation because I could foresee a variety of them including importations contrary to law, falsity of manifest, failure to declare, and a few others.

If you have had your merchandise seized or have received a notice of penalty from customs, call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer about the possibility of getting your penalty reduced, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist petitions and in penalty cases by customs nationwide.

Importing Counterfeit Trademarks ‚Äď Customs Seizures & Penalties; Part 2

Importing counterfeit merchandise into into the United States is not only illegal, but is something that U.S. Customs & Border Protection takes very seriously. Intercepting counterfeits is considered it to be a priority trade enforcement issue. For truly counterfeit imported merchandise, there are few opportunities to get the seizure remitted (to get the merchandise back from customs), and so it is forfeited (becomes property of the government). We discussed this Part I of Importing Counterfeit Trademarks РCustoms Seizures & Penalties. But, forfeiture is often just the beginning of the story, because customs can and does penalize people for importing counterfeit merchandise.

When does customs issue a notice of penalty for importing counterfeits?

As matter of policy, customs issues a penalty when 3 criteria are met:

  1. The counterfeit mark is registered with the Patent and Trademark Office
  2. The counterfeit mark recorded with U.S. Customs & Border Protection
  3. The importer has no consent from the trademark holder to import the counterfeits

In all other situations, customs has the authority to issue a penalty, but may or may not, even if the merchandise is seized. It depends on the individual circumstances of the case.

What is a notice of penalty and who is liable?

The notice of penalty is sent from the¬†Fines, Penalties & Forfeiture’s Office of U.S. Custom & Border Protection through the U.S. mail, usually certified. The notice of penalty is typically a 1 to 2 page document, that states what law or laws or regulations were allegedly¬†violated, and based on the violation, it demands payment of a certain dollar amount.

The importer and anyone who causes, directs, or assists the importation (financially or otherwise) is liable to get the notice of penalty.

How is the penalty amount determined?

The penalty dollar amount is usually based on the maximum amount that customs can levy under the law for counterfeit violations; they are¬†are not based on the price actually¬†paid for the goods, but on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price¬†(“MSRP”)¬†of¬†the goods if they were¬†genuine:

  • 1st Offense:¬†the penalty is equal to up to the MSRP¬†of genuine goods
  • 2nd (or more) Offense: the penalty is equal to twice the MSRP¬†of genuine goods

For example, if you are importing counterfeit jeans that cost $5 each, but which have a MSRP for genuine jeans of  $95, customs customs uses the $95 price in its calculation. In this example, if 100 pairs of jeans were imported, the penalty for a 1st offense is up to $9,500 (not $500). For a 2nd offense, the penalty is up to $19,000 (not $500 or $1,00).

Does customs ever reduce a penalty?

You can pay the penalty or, as we recommend, file a petition for mitigation to ask for a reduction in the penalty. Once the notice of penalty is sent, the recipient has either 30 days to pay the penalty or file a detailed petition arguing the legal bases for further mitigation (reduction) or cancellation of the penalty. We recommended preparing and filing a petition, with the assistance of legal counsel, which argues persuasively for the substantial mitigation, or when the facts and law warrant it, cancellation of the penalty in full. Great Lakes Customs Law has been very successful in getting these kinds of penalties reduced and, sometimes, even eliminated entirely (some history of our success is HERE).

A failure to pay the penalty, or the mitigated penalty, will result in the referral of the matter for collection through the U.S. attorney. Customs may sue the importer or the person providing assistance in federal court and get a judgment against them. This allows the government to lien property, garnish assets and bank accounts, and seize property to satisfy the judgment.

Obviously, the best course of action is to file a petition, get a reduced penalty, and pay it.

Is there a way to reduce the penalty from customs?

Keep Calm Petition MemeYes, if a properly argued petition with factual and legal support is presented to customs, it is possible for a penalty reduction of anywhere from 10% to 30% for a first or second offense. There would have to mitigating and no aggravating factors to achieve that result.

A standard disposition with aggravating factors, or for a third offense, may still garner a reduction of 50% to 80%, if a properly argued petition with factual and legal support is presented to customs.

It is possible, and our law firm has been able to obtain complete cancellation of the penalty even in cases where there are still grounds for a technical violation of the law (some history of our success is HERE). Of course, results will vary from case to case, and no result could be guaranteed. Customs has maintains a list of mitigating factors and aggravating factors that it looks for, and which should part of the argument and analysis of any petition that is filed for them; without a careful and thoughtful analysis of those factors that customs looks for, you may end up pay more than necessary.

If you have had your merchandise seized or have received a notice of penalty from customs, call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer about the possibility of getting your penalty reduced, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist petitions and in penalty cases by customs nationwide.

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 names ((Sometimes collectively called “marks” here)) 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 companies ((Furthermore, the companies cannot subject to common ownership or common control — such as parent companies and subsidiaries, etc.)).¬† 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.