Tag: lawyer

Calculation of Customs penalties for 1592 violations

In a previous article we provided a general overview of U.S. Customs and Border Protection penalties for violations of 19 USC § 1592, and therefore we now address the potential cost of a penalty in terms of dollar amounts and how those amounts are calculated.

In addition to the required payment of any unpaid or underpaid duties (i.e., taxes or tariffs) as a result of a violation of § 1592, a violator will also be responsible for a penalty, which serves  the purpose of deterrence and, to a lesser extent, acts as compensation for the costs of enforcement. § 1592(c). Get ready for the bad news. The penalty amounts range depending, first and foremost, on the level of culpability, as follows:

  • Negligence: Twice (2x) the loss of duties, taxes, and fees or the domestic value of the goods, whichever is less; or, if the violation caused no duty loss then 20% of the dutiable value;
  • Gross Negligence: Four times (4x) the loss of duties,  taxes, and fees or the domestic value of the goods, whichever is less; or, if the violation caused no duty loss then 40% of the dutiable value of the goods;
  • Fraud: An amount not greater than domestic value (1x) of the goods.

Customs can set the penalty anywhere it determines appropriate, but the penalty cannot exceed the maximum amount above for any degree of culpability.

Now get ready for the worse news: Customs can increase a penalty, so long as it does not Frustated Executiveexceed the legal maximum, when it finds the presence of aggravating factors, such as:

  • Obstructing an investigation or audit;
  • Withholding evidence;
  • Providing misleading information;
  • Prior violations;
  • Illegal transshipment such that the country of origin has been falsified;
  • Evidence of a motive to admit inadmissible merchandise;
  • Failure to comply with a demand for records or a summons;

But, there is some good news in the midst of all the bad. Even when aggravating factors are present, these penalties can be reduced by Customs when it finds the presence of  mitigating factors, which include:

  • Contributory customs error, such as receiving misleading or wrong advice from Customs;
  • Cooperating with Customs in an extraordinary fashion, beyond that normally for a penalty action;
  • Taking immediate corrective actions, such as hiring an attorney, payment of the actual loss of duty prior the penalty notice, correction of organization or procedural defects, instituting a compliance program, etc.;
  • Inexperience in importing;
  • Prior good record of importations;
  • Inability to pay, as shown by tax return and financial statements;
  • Customs knew of violations, but failed to inform the violator without justification, and there is no criminal investigation.

These above-listed factors are identified by Customs as mitigating factors at the administrative level (that is, when Customs is deciding the penalty amount). Of course, if you disagree with the final decision on the penalty amount from  Customs you will have the right to have a Court decide the matter. The court determines the penalties according to its own set of considerations (which will be the subject of future articles).

If you are issued a pre-penalty notice, penalty notice, or even if you are in the midst of a penalty case with Customs or before the Court of International Trade, you really should have the benefit of an attorney experienced in the customs laws. Beyond the mere arguing for and against the imposition of a penalty, or the presence and absence of aggravating and mitigating factors, there are technical arguments as well as large and well-developed body of case law about when penalties are allowed, and what amount is appropriate. You may have a complete defense to the imposition of penalties. If you are in such a situation, please make use of our experience and contact us today by calling (734) 855-4999 orby filling out our contact form.

 

Customs penalties for fraud, negligence, and gross negligence under 19 USC § 1592

U.S. Customs & Border Protection (“Customs”) enforces its laws through the imposition of fines, penalties, and forfeitures. This article looks specifically at penalties imposed by Customs under 19 USC § 1592, which is the penalty statute for commercial fraud and negligence.

In essence, § 1592 is a law that penalizes any person that does or attempts to enter or introduce merchandise into the United States by means of any 1) material omission or 2) material and false document, written or oral statement, or act that has the potential to alter the classification, appraisement, or admissibility of merchandise. § 1592(a)(1)(A). It is also a violation to aid or abet anyone in violating this law. § 1592(a)(1)(B) This law is violated even if the government does not lose duties or other revenue.

Customs Penalty - Penalty Flag

Penalties can be assessed at three different levels of culpability, with more severe penalties for offenses committed with greater culpability. These levels of culpability are:

  • Negligence: defined by Customs as failure to exercise reasonable care;
  • Gross Negligence: defined by Customs as “actual knowledge or wanton disregard”; and,
  • Fraud: defined by Customs as “voluntarily and intentionally.”

For an alleged violation of § 1592,  Customs may issue a penalty on (sometimes on form 5955A) against the violator — which may be any person or people involved, including the importer of record, an employee, agent, consignee, etc. You are not immune just because a corporation, limited liability company, or someone else is the importer of record.

Before Customs issues the penalty, however, they must first issue a pre-penalty notice that typically gives the alleged violator 30 days to respond and provide reasons why they should not be penalized. § 1592(b)(1). Although somewhat rare, Customs can then decide against penalty; however, in most circumstances Customs goes forward and issues penalty notice to the alleged violator. If your company receives a pre-penalty notice Customs may still, in the future, go after certain individuals without issuing another pre-penalty notice to them. This often catches people by surprise and some will ignore a penalty notice thinking it will not be applied to them personally, but such is not the case.

If you or your company receives a pre-penalty or penalty notice it should be taken very seriously. Typically, a penalty notice requires a response within 60 days by either paying the alleged penalty, or as we typically recommend to clients, by making an offer in compromise or filing a petition for remission and/or mitigation. These responses – responses to both pre-penalty notices and penalty notices – should be drafted by an attorney experienced in the customs laws and should argue, where the facts and law allow, against imposition of a penalty or reduction in the level of culpability, along with a request to make an oral presentation to Customs.

After Customs first decision on any petition, there is an additional opportunity to file a second or supplemental petitions to argue for a more favorable decision. If you are faced with a penalty, or have recently discovered violations of  § 1592 and are considering a prior disclosure to avoid harsh penalties then please contact our office immediately by filling out our contact form or by calling (734) 855-499 and speaking with a customs lawyer directly.

Customs’ seizes T-Rex skull in Jackson, Wyoming as part of ongoing investigation

According to this news report, and this one, Customs in Jackson, Wyoming, exercised a federal warrant to seize the skull of a Tarbosaurus from someone’s home. The story draws a parallel to another recent news item about the importation of dinosaur bones:

Federal officials recently seized a nearly complete Tarbosaurus skeleton that was sold at auction and arrested a Florida man for illegally importing dinosaur fossils.

A U.S. attorney for the president of Mongolia says that country welcomes the increased awareness for the illegal trade of Mongolian fossils.

Local 8 news.

According to the limited information in the News & Guide article, the fossil was seized for  failure to provide proper documentation that the export was done in compliance with the law.

That article also references a similar case involving a dinosaur skeleton in New York and Florida, and I would also draw the reader’s attention to the story I blogged about a few months ago in Detroit where seized fossils went unclaimed and were thereafter donated to the University of Michigan.

Maybe instead of devoting so much of my blogging lately to avoid having your currency seized I need to start focusing on avoiding having your fossils seized…

Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.

Many posts in this series have dealt with how and why Customs will seize currency and monetary instruments crossing the border for a violation of 31 USC 5316, which is a failure to report. Customs is also empowered to seize cash or its equivalent smuggled into or out of the United States under 31 USC 5332(c) in addition to seizure for failure to file a report.

At its core, the law against bulk cash smuggling prohibits (1) the concealment of currency or monetary instruments, with (2) an intention to evade the reporting requirement, during the (3) knowing transport, transfer, or attempted transport or transfer, of the currency or monetary instruments out of or into the U.S. 31 USC 5332(a)(1).

Concealment can be done on your person, including  in clothing, a conveyance (e.g., a vehicle), in luggage, in a backpack, with or in merchandise, or any other container, whether it is worn or carried by the person transporting, transferring, or attempting to transport or transfer the currency or monetary instruments. 31 USC 5332(a)(2).

This law allows Customs to seize and forfeit through a civil proceeding “[a]ny property” including the container, conveyance, luggage or clothing, “involved in a violation . . . or a conspiracy to commit such violation, and any property traceable to such violation or conspiracy[.]” 31 USC 5332(c). This means that not only will Customs seizue the currency or monetary instruments, but in some cases also the luggage, backpack, merchandise, or conveyance in which it was concealed. The law also provides for penalties for a criminal conviction of not more than 5 years, among other sanctions. 31 USC 5332(b).

Each of the 3 elements above have a legal definition too detailed for an article this short, but suffice it to say that the terms “knowing” and “intentional” do not have the common, everyday definitions you might expect. If you are not a lawyer or don’t mind losing more than $10,000 do not try to be clever and figure it out.

If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or 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 around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

Please read these other articles:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
  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. Responding to a Customs currency seizure
  8. How do I get my seized money back?
  9. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  10. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?