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05/27/2008

ICE arrests 4 El Paso men for conspiring to smuggle goods into the U.S

 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents arrested four local men. They are charged with smuggling goods into the United States
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents arrested four local men. They are charged with smuggling goods into the United States

EL PASO, Texas - Four local men were arrested Tuesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents and charged with smuggling goods into the United States as part of an investigation into "in-bond" shipment fraud.

Jose A. Dominguez, 66; Richard Ortiz Jr., 44; Raul Guillermo Valdivia, 41; and Jaime Guadalupe Camarillo, 46, all of El Paso, were arrested Friday as a result of a joint investigation by ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that spanned nearly five years. All four defendants are charged with conspiring to illegally bring goods into the United States through false statements and smuggling.  In addition, Ortiz, Valdivia and Camarillo are each charged with aiding and abetting the illegal entry of these goods into the United States by false statements and smuggling.

The indictment also seeks a monetary judgment against the defendants in the amount of $963,720, which represents the amount of proceeds derived from the alleged criminal activity. If convicted, each defendant faces up to five years in federal prison.

"In-bond" merchandise is merchandise or goods that transit through the United States from a foreign country and destined for export to another country. Such transit shipments are not subject to quotas or duties and tariffs by the United States. The defendants were allegedly part of a conspiracy that diverted merchandise from China and other countries into the United States without paying duties.

The indictment alleges that beginning in 2003, the defendants conspired to divert into the U.S. economy numerous in-bond shipments of clothing from China that they falsely claimed to be destined for Mexico. Instead, the goods were delivered to the U.S. vendors that had originally ordered them, thereby illegally circumventing proper customs clearance and import duties for shipments entering the United States. Based upon seizures of such merchandise, ICE special agents believe that this organization attempted to smuggle more than $2.5 million worth of goods into the United States, resulting in an estimated loss of $520,000 in customs duties.

Camarillo is a customs broker with J&J Consulting; Dominguez is a self-employed certified public accountant; Ortiz is a salesman with RSB Inc., and Valdivia owns an import/export business. A federal grand jury indicted all four men May 21.

"Import schemes allow people to bring merchandise into the United States duty-free, and cost the U.S. economy millions in lost revenue," said Roberto G. Medina, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso. "In addition, in-bond merchandise is not subject to the rigorous standards imposed by government regulators, which leaves consumers unprotected from purchasing inferior and potentially dangerous products."

The indictment also charges a fifth defendant, Mark Alan Elias, 38, also of El Paso, with aiding and abetting the illegal entry of goods into the United States by false statements and smuggling. Elias is currently in federal custody on unrelated charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William F. Lewis Jr., Western District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.