WASHINGTON – Premier Manufacturing, Inc., a South Carolina cigarette importer, has agreed to pay an additional $3.1 million to settle civil claims that between 1995 and 2002, it deliberately understated the weights of cigarettes that it imported, the Justice Department announced today. The company had previously agreed to pay $7.16 million in restitution as part of a criminal guilty plea that it entered in 2005. The settlement announced today covers civil claims the government had under the False Claims Act and two customs statutes.
Since the amount of customs duties owed on imported cigarettes is based in part on their weight, Premier avoided millions of dollars in customs duties. Under the False Claims Act, the United States is entitled to recover treble damages and penalties from those who knowingly submit false claims for payment to the government or who knowingly fail to pay money owed to the government.
“Importers who fraudulently understate their customs duties cheat American taxpayers,” said Michael F. Hertz, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. “We will continue to be vigilant to keep importers from attempting to circumvent the requirements of federal law.”
The case was handled by the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the United States Attorneys’ Office in South Carolina, and the United States Customs and Border Protection.