Civil and Criminal Investigations in Customs Fraud or Evasion

Companies facing a civil or criminal investigation for customs fraud or evasion of duties or antidumping & countervialing duties (AD/CVD) are advised to immediately retain legal representation.

Our customs attorneys understand the nuances of the customs and trade laws.  We understand and can respond to such allegations.  There may be legal measures that should be undertaken immediately to either dispute, confirm, challenge, or protect legal rights. 


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Our customs attorneys represent companies under investigation or charged with customs fraud or ADCVD fraud (evasion)

Contact a firm attorney directly at (415) 498-0070.

Customs News in Criminal Fraud & Investigations:

See also, our FCA News Page

October 3, 2017: DOJ:  FCA Settlement: Company's domestic purchases allegedly "aided the fraudulent scheme by ignoring warning signs that . . . irregular business practices were highly suggestive of fraud."  Consent order here.

August 3, 2017: USTR Report to Congress on Trade Enforcement Priorities. 

June 5, 2017:  Streetsboro tire company indicted for fraudulently avoiding nearly $10 million.

June 27, 2017:  Congress: Organic foods:  Concerns expressed over fraudulent imports.

March 2, 2017: Chemical Company and Its Owner Sentenced for Rebate Scheme, False Statements to U.S. Customs.

January 25, 2017: Customs opens fraud center in Puerto Rico: San Juan Trade Enforcement Coordination Center.

September 14, 2016: Customs continues pursuit of evasion in Honey industry.

May 2, 2016: Customs Trade Enforcement Task Force.

June 30, 2016: HSI pursues evasion in Chinese honey.

October 9, 2015
Yates Memo: DOJ Guidance on Accountability of Individuals for Corporate Fraud.

June 26, 2015
BIS and DOJ announce prosecution and plea bargain in WI case involving the export of luxury vehicles.  Among the charges: wire fraud and false AES statements.

February 7, 2015: Aluminum Extrusions fraud results in prison sentences.


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Our customs lawyers are known nationally and internationally as a top law firm in customs law, and international trade law. 

The firm's customs attorneys are located in San Francisco, California, Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California. Our practice areas include classification, valuation, admissibility, customs detentions, seizures and penalty proceedings, and customs audits.  We bring litigation, and handle numerous other types of issues arising in international trade. See our services listings.


General Information about government investigations

The Office of the U.S. Attorney, organized within the Department of Justice (DoJ), is responsible for prosecuting civil and criminal violations of federal law.  If there is reasonable cause to suspect criminal wrongdoing, the Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) and federal investigators acting under the authority of the DOJ have a number of investigative tools at his or her disposal, such as:

  • Wire taps
  • Search Warrants
  • Civil Investigative Demands (CID)
  • Subpoenas
  • Discovery

Civil versus Criminal Proceedings

Civil actions and criminal actions implicate different burdens of proof and differing legal processes.  

In the civil context, a defendant may be sued by the United States and find itself arguing in slow moving federal proceedings for many years.  

However, in the context of a criminal prosecution, a defendant may be suddenly informed that a grand jury was convened to indict the defendant (or a charging document filed in lieu of an indictment), and that the defendant needs to secure counsel to prepare immediately for trial.  Defendants who are foreign nationals may face immigration (and particularly visa issues) implicated by the possibility of criminal charges being brought.

Civil Investigations

If a civil investigation is carried out by an agency, a subpoena may be issued requiring the defendant to furnish testimony and/or documents. Alternatively, a search warrant may be secured, and it serves to accomplish the same purpose of fact-finding.   Either method results in the government securing documents and obtaining testimony as evidence.

Another relatively recent development relates to the government's use of Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs).  These are provided for under 31 USC 3733.   CIDs were originally created as a tool available only to the Attorney General; however, in 2009, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 (FERA) allowed the Attorney General to delegate that authority to the various US attorneys, located around the country.  The CID is similar to a subpoena in that it may seek both documents and testimony, however, unlike a subpoena, the CID is much easier for the government to issue.  Additionally, while the CID may appear similar in nature to the traditional tools of civil discovery (such as document requests, interrogatories and depositions) note that these investigative tools are not mutual (as is the case in discovery), and may be utilized against a broad range of non-party individuals and companies.  An importer may be required to respond to the CID, and concurrently, so may the importer's Customshouse broker.

In terms of invoking liability for trade compliance violations, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) most commonly asserts civil liability under the authority of the Customs negligence and fraud statute (19 U.S.C. 1592). 

In contrast, an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA), may decide to invoke any number of other federal statutes (both civil and criminal), including 18 U.S.C. 1341 & 1342 (mail & wire fraud); 18 U.S.C. 1001 (false statements); 18 U.S.C. 545 (smuggling), and 31 U.S.C. 3729 et seq. (False Claims Act)