Tag: petition for remission

Customs seizure of smuggled money in Arizona

A news release from Customs & Border Protection goes into some detail on a recent money seizure in Arizona. The release says that Customs officer’s seized $10,744 in unreported money/currency from a 22-year old guy with a valuable pair of shoes (see below. sometimes  I just like re-posting these new releases for the pictures they provide of smuggling attempts).

U.S. Customs andCustoms Seizure Arizona Shoe Border Protection officers and Border Patrol agents conducting outbound inspections referred a 22-year-old man for further inspection. During a search of the man, officers found $10,744 in U.S. currency concealed in his shoes. The currency was seized and the man was arrested and referred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Individuals arrested may be charged by complaint, the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity, which raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent unless and until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unlike the usual cases I handled where the unreported seized money is part of a civil seizure, this apparently was a criminal seizure. While any violation can give rise to criminal penalties, usually if there is no suspicion of criminal activity the assistant U.S. attorney will not press charges.

In fact, before sometimes before a person is a released after being detained for bulk cash smuggling, a failure to report currency over $10,000, or a structuring violation the seizing officer will call and explain the circumstances to the assistant U.S. attorney, who may either accept, defer, decline prosecution. Of course, if prosecution is initially declined, it would not prevent the government from changing their mind and pursuing criminal charges should they find new evidence in the future.

The risk of criminal prosecution, and the complicated process of actually getting your money through the petition process, is a good reason to give our office a call at (734) 855-4999, or e-mail us if you have had your money seized by Customs, even if you feel it was innocently done. We provide more reasons for hiring an attorney in our tutorial on the currency seizure process.

A chart showing what happens after money and property are seized by Customs

What happens to money and property seized by Customs?

Once U.S. Customs and Border Protection seizes your money or property it can eventually be forfeited (lost forever to the government); it doesn’t matter if it’s¬†merchandise or cash/currency transported without being reported, structured, or smuggled. Before the property is forfeited the owner can try to get it back (remitted).

But once property is forfeited, it forever becomes property of the United States Government. As a government attorney once told me, it goes to that big government warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don’t think he was joking.

What happens after property is seized by Customs?

First, appraisement: CBP must give anything seized a “domestic value.” This is usually measured by

A chart showing what happens after money and property are seized by Customs
A chart showing what happens after money and property are seized by Customs (click to elarge)

“price at which such or similar property is freely offered for sale at the time and place of appraisement, in the same quantity or quantities as seized, and in the ordinary course of trade.” Although an oversimplification, this is basically the fair-market value of the seized property at the time and place of seizure.

Customs conducts an inspection of the goods to determine if they are admissible (i.e., whether they can be allowed entry into the U.S.). Certain things, like narcotics, unsafe electrical components, or lead-tainted children’s toys are inadmissable.

What happens after property is forfeited by Customs?

If the goods are admissible, but the importer could not get the property back at the agency or through federal district court, then Customs can:

  1. Destroy it. If Customs¬†determines it violates copyright laws, has no commercial value, or is a safety risk or violates U.S. law, the port director¬†is authorized destroy the forfeited merchandise. If this doesn’t apply, it can¬†be disposed elsewhere.
  2. Sell it. If the merchandise is sold, Customs will notify the importer, the consignee, the shipper, and the warehouse transferee of the sale no less than 30 days beforehand and then hold a public auction, sometimes online, overseen by the port director. This includes perishables, agricultural products, alcoholic beverages, and vehicles. Counterfeit goods may be sold with the permission of the U.S. trademark holder once the counterfeit mark has been obliterated and at least 90 days after forfeiture, provided that no government agency or charitable institution has a need for them. For example, customs has donated seized fossils to the University of Michigan in the past.
  3. Use it. Last, the government can use it. The products must be unclaimed or abandoned, which means nonpayment of duties and 6 months in Customs custody. The port director must give a 30 day notice, as above. Afterward, the items belong to Customs and they can decide to to use it or distribute it to another government agency.

Item 3 is true for seized money/currency. At the completion of all procedures, seized and forfeited money transfers to the U.S. government. If your money was seized by Customs, read our Customs Money Seizure Legal Guide.

 

 

Customs seizes $360,000 in Unreported Money

A May 3rd news release from Customs & Border Protection details a recent money seizure in Texas. The release says that Customs officer’s seized $360,025 in unreported currency from a male Mexican national when attempting to exit the U.S. and enter Mexico.

What is interesting about this story is there is what is not said, because these news releases usually give some indication that they suspect there was some connection with illegal drug activity. This, however, only says what I have written about many times; that a failure to report currency over $10,000 (failure to report), or concealing more than $10,000 with an intent to evade the reporting requirement (bulk cash smuggling) is illegal.

Another curious aspect is that the $360,000 was concealed in 36 separate packages, which means that each package had about $10,000 in it. I don’t know if that’s just a convenient amount to put in a package, or if there were supposed to be 36 different transactions taking the money across the border by different people or at different times. ¬†That would be a structuring violation, anyway.

Here is the full story:

The vehicle, driven by a 23-year-old male Mexican citizen from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, was selected for further inspection and was referred to secondary. During the process of the secondary inspection, officers noted irregularities within the vehicle and further inspection revealed multiple hidden packages of unreported U.S. currency. Officer discovered and seized a total of 36 packages, which totaled $360,025 in unreported U.S. currency and also seized the vehicle.

CBP-OFO arrested the male traveler and subsequently released him to the custody of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents for further investigation.

‚ÄúThis outstanding seizure of unreported currency was accomplished due to excellent teamwork from our CBP-OFO officers,‚ÄĚ said Efrain Solis Jr., port director, Hidalgo/Pharr/Anzalduas. ‚ÄúPeople who fail to declare currency in excess of $10,000 entering or leaving the country will face penalties or be subject to having CBP seize all of the unreported currency.‚ÄĚ

It is not a crime to carry more than $10,000, but it is a federal offense not to declare currency or monetary instruments totaling $10,000 or more to a CBP officer upon entry or exit from the U.S. or to conceal it with intent to evade reporting requirements. 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.

And I always recommend that anyone whose currency has been seized should contact a lawyer to draft a petition for return of the currency. So if you have had currency seized from Customs do not try to respond yourself but hire our firm, because we know what we are doing and have successfully handled many cases like yours. 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.

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 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.

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 ¬ß 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 ¬ß 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.

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 ‚Äúknowing‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúintentional‚ÄĚ do not have the common, everyday definitions you might expect. If you are not a lawyer or don‚Äôt 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?