LOS ANGELES – A former supervisor with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who conspired with his ex-wife to smuggle goods into the United States in exchange for bribes has been sentenced to 45 months in prison.
Sam Herbert Allen Jr., 54, of San Juan Capistrano (formerly of Diamond Bar), was sentenced late Monday by U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson, who also ordered the defendant to pay $781,632 in restitution to compensate the U.S. for duties that were not paid on the smuggled goods. Allen pleaded guilty in February 2015 to conspiring to defraud the United States by deceitful and dishonest means. The charges stem from a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
At Monday’s sentencing hearing, Judge Pregerson said that society could not tolerate law enforcement “entrusted with border safety” who “sell their jobs.”
“This defendant betrayed his sworn duty to uphold the law,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The defendant supervised the inspection of shipping containers entering the United States and thus played an important role in our border security. His greed led him to commit a serious offense that cost the United States hundreds of thousands of dollars and presented an unacceptable security risk to our community and to the nation.”
According to the plea agreement filed in the case, Allen supervised the examination and release of international cargo that arrived at “Foreign Trade Zones,” or FTZs, which are privately operated warehouses that perform customs functions under the supervision of CBP. FTZs are considered to be outside the United States, and if goods brought into an FTZ are bound for another country, those goods are not subject to duties and taxes that would be required if the items were entering the U.S.
Allen and his ex-wife, Wei “Julia” Lai, agreed to smuggle shipments of clothing into the United States through an FTZ operated by Lai. In exchange for allowing shipments to go through by promising to alter a CBP database to falsely show the clothing had been exported to Mexico, Lai paid Allen bribes of $2,000 per shipping container. Allen received approximately $100,000 in bribes from Lai over the course of several months in 2009 and 2010.
When law enforcement began investigating the shipments, Allen told Lai to lie to federal agents in an attempt to obstruct the investigation.
Lai previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering, and she is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Pregerson March 31. Several other defendants charged in the case also pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from nine to 15 months in federal prison.