Tag: prior disclosure

Customs Seeks to Enforce § 1592 Penalties for Misclassification at CIT

The industry website RubberNews.com has a story about a tire distributor called China Tire out of California who is facing a potential $17 million fraud penaltiy under 19 USC  § 1592 for allegedly fradulent, negligent, or grossly negligent mis-classification of certain bus and truck tires into the United States. According to the story, which relies on the government’s allegations filed in the Court of International Trade, China Tire basically did some broker-shopping after its first customs broker refused to re-classify its product into a duty free Customs Money Seizureprovision of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS).

Instead of classifying them as bus and truck tires, they were classified as duty-free pneumatic tires. This classification caught the attention of Customs and requests for information were sent out. China Tire responded to these requests that “they were pneumatic tires for passenger cars.” Subsequently, China Tire directed its broker to again change classification to tires that were for agriculture and forestry uses.

What followed were standard 19 USC  § 1592 administrative penalty proceedings:

In July 2011, CBP issued a pre-penalty notice against China Tire and its executives John Cheng and Licheng Wang. In that notice, the complaint said, Wang and Cheng were held jointly and severally liable for 253 false entries, with a proposed penalty of nearly $8.1 million.

China Tire’s fraudulent entries cost CBP more than $404,000 in revenue, of which more than $242,000 is still unpaid, according to the complaint.

The current complaint proposes three alternative counts against China Tire, based on charges of fraud, gross negligence or negligence.

If found guilty of fraud, China Tire would face a penalty of nearly $16.9 million, plus the unpaid tariff balance. If found guilty of gross negligence, it would face a penalty of just over $1.6 million, plus the unpaid tariffs. If found guilty of negligence, it would face a penalty of $808,000, plus the unpaid tariffs.

A prior disclosure of the mis-classification would have potentially substantially reduced China Tires’ liability. If you face duty or penalty liability with customs you should contact our office by e-mail or call (734) 855-4999. We are experienced in defending customs 592 penalties, disclosing potential violations through prior disclosures, responding to notices of penalties, and preparing detailed and well argued petitions for mitigation of penalties or liquidated damages. You can also make use of our other articles, such as:

Customs 592 penalties articles:

Importer Allegedly Undervalues Shoe Imports and Gets Criminally Charged

Imports into the United States must be properly classified and valued. Classification has to do with categorizing them on the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) in an 8 digit tariff code, and a 2 digit statistical suffix; valuation has to do with reporting the dutiable value of the merchandise which is usually the amount paid for the merchandise, plus certain other charges. Classification and valuation are bedrock principles of customs compliance.

In this vein, I was alerted  to a story about about a company that sells shoes/footwear which was, allegedly, reporting incorrect values to customs in order to save on duties. It looks like the company has been making its way in the courts for other reasons to, including trademark and breach of contract disputes. This story illustrates the importance of verify correct classification and valuation of merchandise; this can easily be done by requesting a prospective ruling from customs.

A federal grand jury in Sacramento on Thursday charged Romeo with evading about $5.6 million in customs duties. The company imports the popular Bearpaw brand of shearling slippers and boots and sells them nationally.Customs Classification and Valuation

. . .

“Tom has been fully cooperating with customs over the past several years,” said attorney Malcolm Segal, with Segal & Associates PC in Sacramento.

Romeo has deposited more than $4 million with U.S. Customs while the issue remains unsettled, Segal said.

Segal said the dispute arises from a technical issue over whether the shoes are completed products or component parts. The duties are different depending on how the shoes are classified.

Romeo owns and operates Romeo & Juliette Inc., a company that imports shoes and boots made in China and distributed under the brand names Bearpaw and Attix. The company sells to many national retailers.

The indictment alleges that from 1994 through 2011 Romeo had employees and others create false invoices that undervalued footwear he imported from China.

Source: Sacramento Business Journal. It sounds as though Romeo & Juliette filed a prior disclosure based on their attorney’s statement that $4 million was deposited with customs while it considers if it owes any money. That’s a smart move. Unfortunately, violations of the customs laws often involve criminal consequences in addition to severe civil penalties. It appears in vogue for Customs to pursue criminal charges for import violations: In August we posted analysis of a story of smugglers circumventing anti-dumping duties by transshipping aluminum extrusions from China to Malayasia and importing them via false documentation in San Juan.
If you need help conducting due diligence, or face duty or penalty liability with customs you should contact our office by e-mail or call (734) 855-4999. We are experienced in defending customs 592 penalties, disclosing potential violations through prior disclosures, responding to notices of penalties, and preparing detailed and well argued petitions for mitigation of penalties or liquidated damages You can also make use of our other articles, such as:

CBP Webinar for Advisory Committee on Commercial Ops on Oct 7th

The CBP Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations has a meeting on October 7th, 2014, which is free for the public and may be attended via webinar (if you can get the links to work – we cannot). This was announced in the Federal Register. The topics include a variety of presentations with review and discussion pertaining to aspects of  which should be of interest to the importing public, such as:

  1. Review of 2014 Trade Efficiency SurveyCBP COAC Webinar
  2. Sub-workgroups on exports and export licensing
  3. 1USG – or the “One U.S. Government at the Border” efforts, including findings and recommendations by the FDA
  4. Voluntary prior disclosure of IPR infringment violations, AD/CVD and eBond discussions
  5. C-TPAT Export and Trusted Trader Programs
  6. ACE and role of Customs Brokers
  7. Beyond the Border activities with Canada and 21st Century activities with Mexico

Most interesting for me will be #4 and the voluntary prior disclosure of IPR violations, which has been discussed before (agenda here). I hope to hear some concrete proposals on who, what, when and why. You can bet that if customs creates a regulatory system for voluntary prior disclosure of intellectual property rights infringement, importers will be encouraged to undertake a review of their past practices because customs will, with little doubt, dramatically increase enforcement to give the program a kick-start.

Registration can be done as follows (excepted from the Federal Register):

For members of the public who plan to participate via webinar, please register online at https://apps.cbp.gov/tereg/index.asp?w=29 by 5:00 p.m. EST on October 3, 2014. Feel free to share this information with other interested members of your organization or association. Members of the public who are pre-registered and later require cancellation, please do so in advance of the meeting by accessing one (1) of the following links: https://apps.cbp.gov/tereg/cancel.asp?w=28 to cancel an in person registration, or https://apps.cbp.gov/tereg/cancel.asp?w=29 to cancel a webinar registration.

For members of the public who plan to attend the meeting in person, please register either online at https://apps.cbp.gov/tereg/index.asp?w=28; by email to tradeevents@dhs.gov; or by fax to 202-325- 4290 by 5:00 p.m. EST on October 1, 2014. You must register prior to the meeting in order to attend the meeting in person. Please refer to the ADDRESSES section below for more details.

As I said, the links have never worked for me, but if you need help registering here is the contact person:

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Wanda Tate, Office of Trade Relations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Room 3.5A, Washington, DC 20229; telephone 202-344-1440; facsimile 202-325-4290.

Hope to see you at the webinar!

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. ((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.)) 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 violation ((A prior disclosure can still have some benefit after a investigation has begun)); 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.