L.A. Fashion District importer and company owner agree to plead guilty to customs violations, tax offenses and pay nearly $118 million
LOS ANGELES – Federal prosecutors have filed charges against a Fashion District clothing importer and the company’s owner in a scheme to undervalue imported garments and avoid paying millions of dollars in duties to the United States. The cases also allege a tax fraud scheme in which the company’s owner failed to report on tax returns millions of dollars derived from cash transactions.
In conjunction with the criminal charges filed late Tuesday, prosecutors also filed plea agreements in which Ambiance Apparel and company owner Sang Bum “Ed” Noh agreed to plead guilty to felony offenses and pay a total of $117,897,708, which includes nearly $36 million in cash seized from Ambiance and Noh in 2014.
The case against Ambiance and Noh was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, LA IMPACT, and the Long Beach, Los Angeles, Gardena and West Covina Police Departments. Support was provided by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Noh, 66, of Bel Air, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of subscribing to a false tax return, charges that carry a statutory maximum penalty of eight years in federal prison.
Ambiance Apparel – the operating name for two corporations, Ambiance U.S.A. Inc. and Apparel Line U.S.A., Inc. – agreed to plead guilty to eight counts, including conspiracy, money laundering, and customs offenses.
Court documents outline separate schemes involving Ambiance and Noh, which came to an end in September 2014 when law enforcement authorities led by HSI executed dozens of search warrants as part of an investigation into money laundering and other crimes at Fashion District businesses.
In the customs fraud scheme, Ambiance imported clothing from Asian countries and submitted fraudulent invoices to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that undervalued the shipments and allowed Ambiance to avoid paying the full amount of tariffs owed on the imports, according to court documents. At Noh’s direction, the Asian manufacturers prepared two invoices for the clothing ordered by Ambiance – one that usually reflected 60 to 70 percent of the actual price and was paid by letter of credit, and one that reflected the balance of the actual price and was paid by wire transfer. The first invoice, which fraudulently reduced the value of the shipment, was submitted to CBP and was used to calculate the tariffs due on the imports. As a result of this scheme, over the course of just over 4½ years, Ambiance undervalued imports by about $82.6 million and failed to pay more than $17.1 million in tariffs. In the plea agreement filed today, Ambiance and Noh have agreed to pay U.S. Customs and Border Protection a total of $18.42 million, which includes the unpaid tariffs and interest accrued through 2014.
In the second scheme outlined in a statement of facts filed Tuesday, Ambiance admitted it failed to file reports with the Secretary of the Treasury that documented cash transactions of more than $10,000. Ambiance employees received approximately 364 payments of more than $10,000 over a two-year period – which totaled more than $11.1 million – and the company failed to file a single Form 8300 to alert federal authorities to the cash transactions.
In conjunction with these cash transactions, Ambiance used two sets of books to record sales, one of which documented only cash transactions and was not reported to Ambiance’s outside accountants. Noh also directed some of the second set of transactions to be underreported to the accountants. The lower sales figures were reported on 2011 and 2012 tax returns filed by Noh. Noh admitted that he failed to report income for those two years and now owes the Internal Revenue Service a total more than $16.8 million, which includes unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.
Noh and Ambiance will be summonsed to appear for arraignments on September 14 in United States District Court.
Once the guilty pleas are entered on behalf of Ambiance, the company expects to be placed on probation for five years, during which time it will implement an effective anti-money laundering compliance and ethics program with an outside compliance monitor.
This matter is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California’s International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section and Asset Forfeiture Section.