LAREDO, Texas - Two businessmen from New Jersey and a California each pleaded guilty on Thursday for their roles in an illegal export scheme. The guilty pleas were announced by U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, Southern District of Texas. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Vahram Aynilian, 59, of New Jersey, and Fred Lukach, 50, of California, each pleaded guilty to one count of illegally exporting goods from the United States into Mexico. Both defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Diana Saldana to enter their guilty pleas.
"This investigation showcases the diligent work conducted by ICE and the Mexican Fraud Task Force that uncovered a criminal scheme involving NAFTA and customs laws being circumvented," said Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in San Antonio. "ICE, along with the Mexican government, will continue to work jointly to avoid losing millions of dollars in revenue due to the non-collection of importation fees and taxes."
Aynilian is president of N.Y. Aynilian & Co. located in New Jersey. Lukach is a businessman from San Diego, Calif., who temporarily worked in Laredo as a freight forwarder. The investigation was initiated in August 2008 when ICE received information that later confirmed Aynilian was selling fraudulent North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Certificate of Origin documents and fraudulent U.S. invoices. Lukach, who met Aynillian through a mutual acquaintance, purchased and used Aynillian's fraudulent documents in Laredo and other ports of entry through the U.S-Mexico border to claim that foreign textile shipments were manufactured in the United States in order to exploit NAFTA protections. By using these fraudulent documents, Lukach and the ultimate consignees of the foreign textile shipments, illegally avoided paying duties to the Mexican government.
From 2005 to 2009, Aynilian received about $199,201 for providing and/or allowing fraudulent NAFTA Certificate of Origin documents and fraudulent U.S. invoices to be provided for 243 shipments. As part of his plea agreement, Aynilian agreed to forfeit and will pay to the United States at or before sentencing the $199,201.20 he profited from the scheme. During the same time period, Lukach paid for and obtained fraudulent NAFTA Certificate of Origin documents and fraudulent U.S. invoices from Aynilian for numerous textile shipments.
Aynilian's and Lukach's convictions for illegally exporting goods from the United States to Mexico were obtained under a new federal law passed by Congress pertaining to smuggling goods from the United States: Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 554. Each count of conviction carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine, or both.
Both men will be sentenced by Judge George P. Kazen on a date to be set after the submission of a final presentence investigative report.
Both men have been permitted to remain free on bond pending their sentencing hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Sheldon, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.