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10/25/2012

US Customs officer arrested on federal bribery charges in scheme to avoid taxes on imports coming from China

LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities arrested a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) supervisory officer Thursday morning on charges of accepting bribes to allow others, including his ex-wife, to smuggle goods into the United States so they could avoid paying duties and taxes.

Sam Herbert Allen, 51, of Diamond Bar, was arrested after being indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, bribery and making false statements to investigating agents with the Department of Homeland Security.

The probe was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility, ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Internal Affairs.

According to the five-count indictment, Allen served as a supervisory officer assigned to oversee the examination and release of cargo entering the United States. After he was transferred to other duties within CBP, Allen convinced his ex-wife to operate an import business that would avoid paying duties on shipments coming from the People's Republic of China. The import business – technically a "foreign trade zone" – would falsely claim that the shipments from China were not imported, but were instead immediately sent to Mexico. The indictment alleges that Allen promised to make the shipments appear to CBP as if they had been exported to Mexico, this in exchange for bribe payments of $2,000 per shipment.

During the course the scheme, which operated from at least September 2009 until March 2010, Allen allegedly received more than $100,000 in bribe payments. The indictment alleges that the scheme caused the United States to suffer a loss of at least $781,000 in unpaid customs duties and taxes.

"When public servants break the law, it leaves behind an indelible stain," said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. "The indictment alleges that Officer Allen violated the public trust by using his position in a government agency to line his pockets and deprive the United States of legitimate taxes owed in the normal course of business. The criminal charges reflect our commitment to rooting out and punishing corrupt officials."

The indictment goes on to allege that Allen encouraged his ex-wife to lie – and that Allen himself lied – to federal law enforcement personnel investigating and prosecuting this scheme. Allen is also charged with lying to investigators when he denied discussing a separate scheme to smuggle cocaine into the United States from Mexico.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed crimes. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Allen is expected to be arraigned on the indictment Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

If he is convicted of the five counts in the indictment, Allen would face a statutory maximum penalty of 35 years in federal prison.

Allen's ex-wife, Wei Lai, was charged with crimes related to her role in the smuggling scheme in July 2011. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled to go to trial with another defendant Feb. 19, 2013.