Florida Couple Sentenced for Illegally Importing Wood Products from China

Miami, FL, February 21, 2024-"A Florida couple has been sentenced to 57 months in prison for illegally importing wood products from China and evading more than $42 million in duties,” reports Furniture Today.

“According to the Department of Justice, Noel and Kelsy Hernandez Quintana pleaded guilty to conspiring to import hardwood and softwood plywood in violation of the Lacey Act and customs laws and to selling plywood products that were illegally imported and sold.

“Per court filings, the couple engaged in a scheme from February 2016 to December 2020 to evade antidumping and countervailing duties of up to 200% on hardwood plywood products from China.

“The couple incorporated seven companies in the U.S.-naming relatives or friends as corporate officers and agents-with these shell companies importing hundreds of shipments of plywood products into the country. These companies evaded duties by falsely declaring their hardwood plywood imports from China to be either the product of another country or to be made with a species of wood not subject to duties.

“The couple fled the U.S. when they realized the authorities were onto them, according to the DOJ, first to Panama and then to Montenegro, where they were the subject of extradition proceedings. Facing up to 20 years in prison, each of the Quintanas entered into a plea agreement.

“According to the plea agreement, softwood plywood – regardless of country of export – carried a general duty of 8%, with a few duty-free exceptions, such as if the outer ply was made from Parana pine. Antidumping and countervailing duties of more than 200% applied to hardwood plywood manufactured in China after April 2017.

“The DOJ gave one example of how the Quintanas evaded duties: A 2018 import declaration said plywood in three containers was manufactured in Russia. But authorities found that the containers were manufactured and loaded in Qingdao, China, and transported to Port Everglades, Fla., through the Panama Canal, without ever stopping in Russia. After authorities stopped such a shipment through Panama, the Quintanas used a different tactic to evade duties by shipping Chinese-produced hardwood plywood to Malaysia, then transferring the wood to new containers to be shipped onward to the U.S. This change of containers was intended to better conceal that the plywood originated from China.

“‘Today we hold defendants accountable for their intentional circumvention of customs laws: to avoid paying duties, defendants repeatedly violated the law, refining their schemes each time one was exposed,’ said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. ‘This is not simply a financial crime; accurate import declarations protect U.S. markets from dumping by foreign countries and deter illegal harvesting of plants.’

“Noel Quintana pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling and one count of violation the Lacey Act. Kelsy Quintana pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the Lacey Act. The total loss of duties owed on the illegally imported wood products was approximately $42 million. The couple must also pay more than $42 million in owed duties, plus $1.6 million in storage costs for the illegal wood.”