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Contraband
02/05/2010

Florida man sentenced for smuggling 27 million cigarettes out of the U.S.

MIAMI - A Homestead, Fla., man was sentenced to two years in federal prison for smuggling millions of cigarettes out of the United States. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) led the criminal investigation with other international agencies.

Roman Vidal, 57, was sentenced to 24 months in prison by Judge Alan S. Gold for smuggling cigarettes out of the United States into various European Union countries to avoid paying more than $5.6 million in customs and tax duties. Vidal was also ordered to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution.

Vidal conspired with others in Miami, along with associates located in Spain, Great Britain, Ireland and Germany, to smuggle cigarettes out of the Port of Miami into Aachen, Germany; Dublin, Ireland; and Felixstowe, Great Britain.

Vidal, who ran the Miami portion of the operation, arranged the purchase of hundreds of cases of cigarettes from Panama, and the transportation of those cigarettes to the Port of Miami. He then purchased other cargo, such as yarn, wood flooring and building insulation material, to be used as cover loads to conceal the cigarettes.

Vidal directed the preparation of false bills of lading that only declared the cover load materials. These bills of lading were presented to the shipping companies and overseas customs services. Custom duties and taxes were based only on the falsely declared cargo, so no duties or taxes were paid on the cigarettes.

On four occasions ranging from December 2001 through April 2008, Vidal smuggled 2,702 master cases of cigarettes, totaling more than 27 million individual cigarettes, out of the Port of Miami.

Based upon the false bills of lading, only a few thousand dollars of custom duties and taxes were paid on each shipment.

The true custom duties and taxes that should have been paid include $1,552,515 to the German government, $2,115,657 to the Irish government and $1,968,997 to the British government.

This ICE-led investigation was also assisted by the following agencies: German Customs Investigation Services; Irish Office of Revenue Commissioners, Investigations & Prosecutions Division, Customs Investigation; Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs of the United Kingdom; Spanish Guardia Civil; and the European Union Anti-Fraud Office based in Brussels, Belgium.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Stone, Southern District of Florida, prosecuted this case.