Co Authored by Robert Becerra
In another example of the government’s continuing use of the criminal justice system to enforce international trade laws, three Florida companies and their management were recently convicted and sentenced for importing smuggled toys from China containing lead and containing counterfeit trademarks.
LM Import-Export, Inc., Lam’s Investment Corp., and LK Toys Corp., Hung Lam and Isabella Kit Yeung plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to traffic and smuggle toys containing hazardous substances such as lead, and one count of trafficking in counterfeit goods, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Secs. 371 and 2320, respectively. Co-defendant Yeung plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of submitting a false country of origin label, in violation of 19 U.S.C. Sec. 1304(a). The information, or charging document filed in court, against all defendants, as well as the plea agreements for each defendant can be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida. (If you have trouble getting these documents, email me and I’d be happy to share them with you).
The facts underlying the charges, as stated in court documents, are that from April, 2000, until May 2011, a span of 11 years, the corporate defendants conspired to sell children’s products imported from China in violation of the Consumer Product Safety Act 15 U.S.C. Sec. 2068, and the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1263. Some of the toys contained lead, while others presented various hazards such as choking, aspiration or ingestion. The products were imported using false statements on Customs declaration forms and with false country of origin labeling.
Hung Lam was sentenced to 22 months incarceration, 3 years of supervised release and a $10,000 fine. The corporations were sentenced to 5 years of probation. Yeung was sentenced to 1 year probation and a $1,000 fine. An order was entered mandating the forfeiture to the government of $862,500 and all products imported by the defendants that were seized by the government. The press release from the Consumer Products Safety Commission and Department of Justice discussing the case can be found here and here respectively.
This case is extremely important for importers to be familiar with and understand that:
- It is vital for importers to retain counsel to assist with pre-compliance before you import.
- When you receive any violation notice from the federal government, retain counsel immediately and be sure to address all violations with remedial action and enhanced compliance procedures in an attempt to keep administrative penalties or forfeiture cases from turning into potential criminal matters.
- Resolving a civil action through a consent decree with the government does not absolve you of criminal liability.
- Once contacted by government officials, retain counsel immediately. Any evidence you provide or any statements you make will be used against you in court.
- Repeated misconduct and federal regulatory law violations over a period of years will often result in criminal prosecution of both companies and their individual employees, resulting in federal prison sentences and substantial fines and forfeitures.