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Counter Proliferation Investigation Unit

Miami man pleads guilty in illegal refrigerant smuggling operation

MIAMI — A Miami businessman pleaded guilty Wednesday in connection with the illegal receipt, purchase and sale of ozone-depleting refrigerant gas that had been smuggled into the United States, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

According to court records, Carlos Garcia, 53, was the senior vice-president of Marcone's Heating and Cooling Division responsible for executing legal purchases and sales of refrigerant gas. Instead, Garcia engaged in the purchase and sale of black market hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22), which is a widely used refrigerant for residential heat pump and air-conditioning systems.

The investigation revealed that Garcia would routinely seek out and arrange the purchase of HCFC-22 from various importers who did not hold the required unexpended consumption allowances, totaling approximately 55,488 kilograms of restricted HCFC-22, with a fair market value of approximately $639,458. The refrigerant gas was distributed by Marcone throughout the United States.

Garcia pleaded guilty to count four of the superseding indictment, which charged him with knowingly receiving, buying, selling and facilitating the transportation, concealment and sale of approximately 13,600 kilograms of ozone-depleting HCFC-22. Garcia's employer, Mar-Cone Appliance Parts Co. (Marcone), was previously convicted and sentenced for related conduct and ordered to pay a $500,000 criminal fine, a $400,000 community service payment, and was ordered to forfeit to the United States $190,534.70 in illegal proceeds. Garcia faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

"The smuggling of goods contrary to law poses a significant threat to national security and public safety and in this particular case, the illegal importation posed a global hazard to our environment," said Alysa Erichs, special agent in charge of HSI Miami. "This case is another example of HSI's commitment to combating illicit trade along with our federal partners."

Federal law prohibits dealing in merchandise that is imported contrary to law. The Federal Clean Air Act regulates air pollutants including ozone-depleting substances such as HCFC-22. The Clean Air Act and its implementing regulations established a schedule to phase out the production and importation of ozone-depleting substances beginning in 2002, with a complete ban starting in 2030. To meet its obligations under an international treaty to reduce its consumption of ozone-depleting substances, the United States issued baseline allowances for the production and importation of HCFC-22 to individuals and companies. In order to legally import HCFC-22, one must hold an unexpended consumption allowance.

Sentencing has been scheduled before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga for June 26.