Monthly Archives

February 2010

NAFTAU.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

If You are an Owner or Officer of an Importer, This Blog Post is for You

posted by Jennifer Diaz February 28, 2010 0 comments

In one of the most important recent decisions, the U.S. Court of International Trade dismissed a case filed against the CEO of his importing company that had made false statements to U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the entry documents.  This Court decision has significant implications for every owner, officer, and manager of any company involved in importing merchandise into the United States.

The chronology of the case is somewhat familiar.  In 2002, Tip Top Pants, Inc., imported from Mexico 954 dozen men’s pants, and claimed NAFTA duty free treatment.  Customs issued a Request for Information (CBP form 28), and then a Notice of Action (CBP Form 29) denying the NAFTA claim.  Customs then issued a Pre-Penalty Notice against both Tip Top Pants and its CEO, Mr. Nigri, alleging negligence, and assessing a penalty of $55,000.  Tip Top filed a response to the Pre-Penalty Notice.  Customs then issued a final Penalty Notice. Tip Top Pants filed with Customs another petition seeking cancellation or mitigation of the penalty.  Customs never responded to that Petition filed by Tip Top Pant’s attorney.

Even though the disputed customs duties were subsequently paid by Tip Top Pants, Customs sued both Tip Top Pants, Inc. and its Chairman and CEO, Mr. Saad Nigri, for violating 19 U.S.C. 1592, by allegedly making material false statements or acts, or material omissions, in connection with the entry of the men’s pants from Mexico.

The Court took the unusual action of dismissing Mr. Nigri as a defendant in the case for two reasons.  The first reason is that Customs failed to respond to Tip Top Pant’s Petition, as required by 19 U.S.C. 1592(b)(2).  The second reason is that the Complaint filed with the Court by Customs did not specifically allege that Mr. Nigri personally committed any act or omission in violation of 19 U.S.C. 1592. As the Court stated, “[T]he complaint does not allege that Nigri did, or failed to do, anything whatsoever.” So, even if Tip Top Pants was negligent, its negligence could not be imputed to Mr. Nigri just because he was CEO of the company when the negligence occurred.

In a sentence that is certain to be cited by customs attorneys in petitions and court briefs, Judge Stanceu stated:

The [Priority Products] case does not hold that a party’s serving as an officer of a corporation at the time the corporation imports merchandise is, by itself, sufficient to establish that officer’s liability for acts committed by the corporation that are found to be in violation of Section 592.

The Court then issued an Order dismissing all claims by Customs against Mr. Nigri, personally.

A future blog post will let you know what happened with the negligence penalty case against Tip Top Pants, Inc.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Who Should Give Advice to U.S. Customs?

posted by Jennifer Diaz February 25, 2010 3 Comments

I attended the Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of Customs and Border Protection (COAC) meeting on February 25, 2010 in Miami.  The 20 private sector members of COAC are jointly selected by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Treasury, and include knowledgeable customs compliance and logistics personnel from such prominent companies as DHL, APL, Hasbro, and GE.  The COAC meets four times a year to discuss creating or changing the policies and procedures of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as they affect the international trade community.

The Miami meeting included an introduction by Acting Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar, referred to as “Chief” which is his title with the CBP component U.S. Border Patrol.  Chief Aguilar spoke about “security,” “resilience,” and “protecting customs and exchange” which apparently is the new terminology for the former “facilitating international trade”.  His introduction focused on assessing and mitigating risks of people and cargo entering the United States.

Substantive presentations were made by, among others, Therese Randazzo, Director, IPR Policy and Programs, Office of International Trade on behalf of the IPR Subcommittee.  Therese discussed the new IPR sample bond form for trademark and copyright owners to use to get samples of detained or seized merchandise from CBP.

Rich DiNucci, Director, Secure Freight Initiative, Office of Field Operations on the topic of Importer Security Filing, stated there were 2,300 ISF filers with 141,000 unique importer record numbers. Rich stated that the timeliness of the ISF or “10+2” filing has increased to 75%.  No penalties would be issued by CBP for ISF filing errors or failure to file…for now.

Bradd Skinner,  Director, Industry Partnership Programs, Office of Field Operations, spoke about C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism). Bradd announced that CBP now had 9,710 certified C-TPAT members, a dramatic increase from the original 7 members in 2001.  1,200 new members were added in 2009.  CBP Security Supply Chain Specialists conducted 14,000 validations so far in 87 countries.  297 companies were suspended or removed from C-TPAT in 2009.

The COAC is an excellent way for private sector persons and companies to interact with top level CBP and Treasury personnel regarding the critically important, and sometime competing, objectives of security and trade. Now more than ever, our Government needs to listen closely how to improve the daily lives of its citizens. Chief Aguilar, thanks for listening.


U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Is $56 Billion of Your Money For Homeland Security Too Much, Too Little, or Just Right?

posted by Jennifer Diaz February 16, 2010 0 comments

On February 1, 2010, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the Department’s budget for fiscal year 2011 would be $56 billion.  This was the first time for the Democratic Obama Administration to formally unveil its budget priorities after taking over from the Republican Bush Administration.  Guess what – it’s more of the same.

The Federal Government’s fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30, so the Fiscal Year 2011 budget begins on October 1, 2010. Examples of more of the same include more Federal Air Marshals on international flights, 500 more machines at airport checkpoints to detect dangerous materials, 275 more explosive detection canine teams, and more machines to scan 40 foot ocean containers entering the country for weapons of mass destruction, explosives, contraband, and illegal aliens. Compare this with prior budgets or the 2008 Five Year Plan for DHS, and you too may conclude that this is more of the same.

The Department of Homeland Security includes U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FEMA, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  There are 230,000 employees in this mega-Department.

There are 3 items I especially like in the proposed budget.

(1) raising the journeyman level for uniformed Customs Inspectors, Border Patrol Agents and Agricultural Specialists from the GS-11 to GS-12 level (a $10,000 base salary increase to $60,000);

(2)  a substantial increase in funding for stopping counterfeit merchandise from entering the United States, something which is very serious when we are talking about medicines, car and aviation parts; and

(3)  dual immigration priorities of (a) making it easier for legal immigrants to become citizens, and (b) removing from the United States illegal aliens who have been convicted of a crime, and are serving time in state and local jails.

If people voted for Obama with the expectation of drastic changes in homeland security policies, they will be sorely disappointed.  If people who did not vote for Obama were anxious that he would change the course of national security and counter-terrorism efforts of the prior Bush Administration, they will be pleased.

For me, my desires are much simpler. If and when Secretary Napolitano announces that TSA no longer requires us to take off our shoes at the airport, then I’ll know there is progress.  When my local police department gets rid of the huge barriers in its parking lot around the police department building, I’ll be pleased. Unfortunately, the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on homeland security efforts since 9/11 will probably not result in my local library soon re-opening the after-hours book return slot.


Customs Broker

Customs Brokers Under Investigation by U.S. Customs

posted by Jennifer Diaz February 12, 2010 0 comments

With all of the complexities involved in the import process, even customs brokers can make mistakes such as by providing the wrong tariff classification of the imported item to U.S. Customs and Border Protection .  A customs broker who makes such a mistake may become the subject of an investigation by U.S. Customs which ultimately results in a $30,000 penalty against the broker.

Customs brokers are often the best choice for importers to take care of all the formalities in clearing imported cargo through U.S. Customs, however, a customs broker who makes a mistake when declaring certain information to U.S. Customs may put  the importer at risk of being accused  of  fraud by U.S. Customs in violation of 19 U.S.C. 1592.  Increasingly often, the customs broker may itself be investigated  by U.S. Customs for failing to exercise responsible supervision and control in violation of 19 U.S.C. 1641.

It is standard practice for U.S. Customs to demand that the broker appear before the Broker Compliance Unit of U.S. Customs at the local port of entry to answer questions about the mistakes discovered by Customs regarding a particular importer or set of entries.  The broker is usually directed to bring with him/her certain documents for review by U.S. Customs at the meeting.  The broker may be accompanied by an attorney during this informal stage of the investigation. The customer of the customs broker, the importer, is generally not made aware by U.S. Customs that its customs broker has been summoned to a meeting with Customs for a counseling session.

If the U.S. Customs personnel are not satisfied with the answers by the broker at the meeting, U.S. Customs will issue a Notice of Pre-Penalty against the broker. The penalty may be up to $30,000. The broker will have 30 days to file a written petition, and request an oral presentation.  A lawyer who is an expert in customs law and procedure should be involved to advise and represent the broker to attempt to get the penalty canceled or mitigated.  The guidelines of what to say in such a Petition are set forth in an Appendix  C to Part 171 of the Customs Regulations.  U.S. Customs personnel must consider a certain set of factors before determining that the customs broker failed to exercise reasonable care and “responsible supervision and control”.  Every customs broker should read, the U.S. Court of International Trade decision issued on January 28, 2010 in the case of United States v. UPS Customhouse Brokerage, Inc.. for a better understanding of both a customs brokers’ and U.S. Customs’ rights and responsibilities.

Currency SeizureSeizuresU.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Help! U.S. Customs Took My Money at the Airport / ¡Ayuda! La Aduana de los Estados Unidos Incautó Mi Dinero en el Aeropuerto

posted by Jennifer Diaz February 1, 2010 118 Comments

You may legally carry or mail any amount of money you want into or out of the United States, but if it is more than $10,000 at one time, you better first report it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Otherwise, you risk U.S. Customs taking it from you, and never getting it back. Why?  Because your failure to report the international transportation of money is a violation of the Currency and Foreign Transaction Reporting Act.

All too often, I am contacted by a distraught American citizen or resident returning from a trip overseas, or a foreign visitor to the United States, who was unaware of the laws regarding currency reporting.  The person was asked by a U.S. Customs officer upon arrival at the international airport if he or she was carrying over $10,000. When the passenger honestly answer “yes”, or the U.S. Customs officer believes the passenger may be lying about the amount of money being transported, the passenger and his or her luggage are examined.  If over $10,000 in monetary instruments, including travelers checks and U.S. or foreign money, is discovered, and the required form, FINCEN Form 105, has not been filed with U.S. Customs, all of the money is likely to be seized on the spot by U.S. Customs.

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