Justia International Trade Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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U.S. Customs Officer Parra spent December 8, 2010 “cracking open containers” at a warehouse near the Los Angeles seaport. Opening one from South Korea to inspect its freight, Parra found a fully assembled, five-foot-tall industrial turbo blower. A placard riveted to the side read, “Assembled in USA.” The discovery led to a federal investigation that traced back to Lee. Prosecutors charged Lee with executing a scheme to defraud local governments by falsely representing that his company manufactured its turbo blowers in the U.S. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his wire fraud convictions, reasoning that Lee’s misrepresentations were material under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 123 Stat. 115 (2009), which includes a “Buy American” provision. The evidence adequately supports Lee’s participation in a scheme to defraud and his intent to do so. Lee used interstate wires as a part of that scheme. The indictment afforded Lee ample notice of the case the government presented at trial and included specific details of the crimes alleged to avoid double jeopardy risk; no impermissible constructive amendment or variance occurred. The court also upheld Lee’s smuggling convictions under 18 U.S.C. 545. The mislabeling served an important function in Lee’s broader scheme to deceive customers about the origin of the turbo blowers. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a Singaporean shipping company, entered into shipping contracts with an Indian mining company. The Indian company breached those contracts. Plaintiff believes that American businesses that were the largest stockholders in the Indian company engaged in racketeering activity to divest the Indian company of assets to thwart its attempts to recover damages for the breach. Plaintiff filed suit under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1964(c). While the case was pending, the Supreme Court decided RJR Nabisco v. European Community, holding that “[a] private RICO plaintiff … must allege and prove a domestic injury to its business or property.” The district court granted the American defendants judgment on the RICO claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiff’s claimed injury—harm to its ability to collect on its judgment and other claims—was economic; economic injuries are felt at a corporation’s principal place of business, and Plaintiff’s principal place of business is in Singapore. The court noted that the district court allowed a maritime fraudulent transfer claim to go forward. View "Armada (Singapore) PTE Ltd. v. Amcol International Corp." on Justia Law

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Four persons were charged with arranging the murder of “Montes” in Mexico to reduce competition against a Chicago-based criminal organization that created bogus immigration documents. The Seventh Circuit reversed dismissal on grounds that the indictment proposed the extraterritorial application of U.S. law. On remand, one defendant pleaded guilty. Three were convicted under 18 U.S.C. 1959, the Racketeer​ Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO); 18 U.S.C. 956(a)(1), which forbids any person “within the jurisdiction of the United States” from conspiring to commit a murder abroad; and conspiring to produce false identification documents, 18 U.S.C. 371. On appeal, defendants cited the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision, Morrison v. National Australia Bank, which reiterated the presumption against extraterritorial application of civil statutes. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that its earlier decision recognized that presumption and thought it not controlling, because of the differences between criminal and civil law, and because the murder in Mexico was arranged and paid for from the U.S., and was committed with the goal of protecting a criminal organization that conducted business in the U.S., to defraud U.S. officials and employers. View "United States v. Leija-Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Dobek was an engineer in charge of providing parts for F-16 fighter planes owned by the Venezuelan Air Force. The U.S. State Department announced that munitions, including parts for military aircraft, could no longer be exported to Venezuela without an export license, and revoked existing licenses. Dobek created firms to carry on business with Venezuela. The Venezuelan Air Force told Dobek that it needed canopy seals for its F-16s. Suspecting that Dobek was selling canopy seals to Venezuela, FBI agents executed a warrant at Dobek’s home, where they found a purchase order for the seals, with no purchaser named. Dobek had certified that he understood that the “products … to be provided are controlled by the … International Traffic in Arms Regulations.” He told a friend that he was looking for a box to ship “cockpit seals.” FedEx shipping records revealed that Dobek had shipped a box, labeled as “base molding,” to Venezuela after that discussion. This pattern of purchase and shipment was repeated a year later. Dobek was convicted of exporting munitions illegally, 22 U.S.C. 2778(b)(2), and conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 371. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the admissibility of an alleged co-conspirator’s emails, the sufficiency of the evidence, and the validity of the jury instruction on willfulness, stating that evidence of willfulness was overwhelming. View "United States v. Dobek" on Justia Law

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From 1987 to 2001, Bengis and Noll engaged in a scheme to harvest large quantities of South Coast and West Coast rock lobsters from South African waters for export to the United States in violation of both South African and U.S. law. Defendants, through their company, Hout Bay, harvested rock lobsters in amounts that exceeded the South African Department of Marine and Coastal Management’s quotas. In 2001, South Africa seized a container of unlawfully harvested lobsters, declined to prosecute the individuals, but charged Hout Bay with overfishing. Bengis pleaded guilty on behalf of Hout Bay. South Africa cooperated with a parallel investigation conducted by the United States. The two pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit smuggling and violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits trade in illegally taken fish and wildlife, and to substantive violations of the Lacey Act. Bengis pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. The district court entered a restitution order requiring the defendants to pay $22,446,720 to South Africa. The Second Circuit affirmed, except with respect to the extent of Bengis’s liability, rejecting an argument the restitution order violated their Sixth Amendment rights. View "United States v. Bengis" on Justia Law

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From 2004-2008, Georgiou and co-conspirators engaged in a stock fraud scheme resulting in more than $55 million in actual losses. The scheme centered on four stocks, all quoted on the OTC Bulletin Board or the Pink OTC Markets Inc. The conspirators opened brokerage accounts in Canada, the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos, which they used to trade stocks, artificially inflating prices. They were able to sell their shares at inflated prices and used the shares as collateral to fraudulently borrow millions of dollars from Bahamas brokerage firms. In 2006, Waltzer, a co-conspirator, began cooperating in an FBI sting operation. A jury convicted Georgiou of conspiracy, securities fraud, and wire fraud. The district court sentenced him to 300 months’ imprisonment, ordered him to pay restitution of $55,823,398, ordered a special assessment of $900, and subjected Georgiou to forfeiture of $26,000,000. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the securities and wire fraud convictions were improperly based upon the extraterritorial application of United States law. The securities were issued by U.S. companies through U.S. market makers acting as intermediaries for foreign entities. The court also rejected claims of Brady and Jencks Act violations and of error on evidentiary and sentencing issues. View "United States v. Georgiou" on Justia Law

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Appellant fled to the United States after a Hong Kong magistrate issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of smuggling, evasion of customs duties, bribery, conspiracy to defraud, and money laundering. On appeal, appellant challenged the district court's grant of an application under 28 U.S.C. 2467(d)(3) for a restraining order to preserve appellant's assets. The court concluded that the district court's restraining order was issued in a manner consistent with the procedural due process protections of 18 U.S.C. 983(j)(1)(A) where the applicable foreign criminal or forfeiture proceedings in this case afforded protections consistent with those afforded by the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint in the United States. The court need not decide whether all of those proceedings were required, or whether fewer or different proceedings would have sufficed. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment, concluding that the proceedings appellant was afforded was sufficient to satisfy the mandate of section 2467(d)(3). View "Luan, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his sentence stemming from his conviction of importing wire hangers without paying the proper duties. The court concluded that the district court incorrectly applied U.S.S.G. 2C1.1 where defendant did not engage in "improper use of government influence," bribery, or extortion, nor did he conspire to do so. Instead, the district court should have applied U.S.S.G. 2T3.1 for evading import duties or restrictions. In regards to calculations for the amount of loss, the court did not resolve the question of which rates apply to which wire hangers, but left the question for the district court to decide on remand under the proper sentencing guideline. View "United States v. Huizar-Velazquez" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to three federal offenses: conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana; discharging a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The district court sentenced defendant to 220 months' imprisonment and defendant appealed his sentence. The court concluded that the appeal was moot because there was no effectual relief available to defendant. Defendant disputed only whether the district court should have imposed the federal sentence "to run concurrently to the remainder of the undischarged term of imprisonment." At this point, because Missouri discharged defendant's state sentence, there was no longer an "undischarged term of imprisonment." Accordingly, the court granted the government's motion to dismiss the appeal and denied the motion to supplement the record. View "United States v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a citizen of Macau, engaged in efforts to import protected defense articles from the United States into China, without the licenses required by law. Defendant was convicted after a jury trial on four counts of conspiracy and attempt to export defense articles without a license, money laundering, and conspiracy and attempt to smuggle goods from the United States. Defendant challenged his conviction and sentence. The court concluded that venue was proper in the Southern District of California; disagreed with defendant that the Arms Export Control Act, 22 U.S.C. 2778, violated the nondelegation principle; concluded that defendant's conviction on count three must be vacated as a matter of law because attempting to cause an export of a defense article was not a federal crime; defendant's conviction on count four must also be vacated for lack of jurisdiction; and because the district court should have allowed defendant to present evidence of duress to the jury, the court reversed and remanded for a new trial on counts one and two. The court did not reach defendant's arguments regarding his sentence. View "United States v. Kuok" on Justia Law