NEW YORK — Two New York-based importers of women's apparel have agreed to pay $10 million in damages and penalties under the False Claims Act for cheating the United States out of millions of dollars in customs duties over the course of a decade. The court settlement results from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The two companies, Dana Kay Inc., and Siouni & Zar Corporation, engaged in a fraudulent scheme to avoid the payment of customs duties by presenting the government with invoices that significantly understated the value of the imported apparel from approximately 2003 through 2012. The defendants paid their overseas manufacturers the full value of the apparel, but deducted a flat fee per garment set before calculating the duty on the apparel. The defendants then recorded only the lower value on the entry forms presented to the government. Through this fraud, the defendants avoided paying millions of dollars in customs duties.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: "Our office is committed to pursuing those who defraud the public for private gain. Here, as our complaint alleges, a whistleblower exposed a decade-long scheme to defraud the Government out of millions of dollars in customs duties. Through the settlement announced today, the companies responsible for this fraud will be held to account, by having to admit to their misconduct and pay $10 million in damages and penalties."
HSI New York Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes, Jr. said: "Companies that circumvent our nation's customs laws through the use of elaborate frauds cheat the American taxpayers and their law-abiding competitors simultaneously. These two importers should serve as an example that HSI is committed to ensuring a level playing field for all who work in the international trade industry."
CBP Director of New York Field Operations Robert E. Perez said: "Working in partnership with HSI, our CBP officers, auditors, and import specialists demonstrated the highest level of professionalism, dedication to duty and vigilance in detecting the undervaluation of these imported goods into the United States."
According to the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court:
As part of the settlement, Dana Kay Inc., and Siouni & Zar Corporation have admitted, acknowledged and accepted responsibility for:
- Presenting to the government commercial invoices for women's apparel being imported into the United States that reported less than the total value of the goods imported;
- Paying apparel manufacturers an amount in excess of that recorded on the commercial invoice;
- Paying the excess amount pursuant to a second invoice referred to as a "debit note"; and
- Failing to disclose to the government the amounts paid pursuant to the second invoices, instead reporting only the lesser amounts listed in the commercial invoices, which the government then used to assess customs duties.
The allegations of fraud stated in the complaint and admitted in the settlement agreement were first brought to the attention of the government by a whistleblower, who filed a lawsuit under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. Those provisions allow private parties who have knowledge of fraud committed against the government to file suit on behalf of the government and share in any recovery. The United States may then intervene and file a complaint, as it did here.
The case is being handled by the Office's Civil Frauds Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Jaimie L. Nawaday is in charge of the case.