Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Evade $42 Million in Duties for Illegally Importing and Selling Plywood
WASHINGTON— Style Craft Furniture Co. Ltd., pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Camden, N.J., to one count of smuggling cribs containing internationally protected wood known as "ramin," the Justice Department announced.
The company was sentenced, according to the terms of a plea agreement, to pay $40,000 fine and serve three years of probation. In addition, the corporation must pay for an advertisement in a publication in China, and a second in a publication in the United States, advising other members of the industry of its actions and the consequences.
The company, a manufacturer of wooden baby furniture located primarily in China, imported approximately $15 million in declared value of wood furniture between 2004 and 2005.
"The Justice Department is committed to enforcing laws that protect timber, like the tropical hardwood ramin, from overharvesting and exploitation," said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Illegal timber harvesting is a growing problem and the Department is increasing its efforts to enforce the laws designed to protect plant species from extinction."
According to documents filed with the court, on approximately May 23, 2005, Style Craft Furniture had a container of baby furniture, including cribs and changing tables, shipped from China into the United States at Port Elizabeth, N.J. The furniture contained ramin wood. According to the factual statement, the invoice that Style Craft Furniture initially submitted to federal authorities when the shipment arrived stated that the wood was Brazilian Marupa and New Zealand Raduata Pine. Neither of these wood species is protected by international or U.S. law.
After the shipment was detained for further examination, Style Craft Furniture provided a re-export certificate, issued according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), for the shipment. The certificate authorized on May 25, 2005, the re-export of 1.08 cubic meters of ramin from China. Sampling of the shipment indicated that the volume of ramin wood contained in the shipment was approximately 6.121 cubic meters.
The president of Style Craft Furniture Co. Ltd., Danny Chien, was also charged at the same time as Style Craft Furniture for the smuggling violation. Chien has agreed to participate in the District of New Jersey’s pretrial diversion program. Under his agreement, Chien accepts responsibility for his conduct, agrees to comply with conditions for a period of six months and, if he successfully completes the program, the charge against him will be dismissed.
Ramin is a light colored hardwood found in tropical forests in parts of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and Malaysia. These forests also serve in part as habitat for endangered orangutan. Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation of any county, much of it due to illegal timber harvest. As a result, the Indonesian government is attempting to combat the illegal harvest of timber, including ramin, in part to protect the remaining orangutan habitat. They have done this through a variety of means including listing ramin in CITES Appendix III, since 2001. International efforts to curb the illegal harvest of ramin, used in the manufacture of baby cribs, include its listing in Appendix II of CITES, effective Jan. 12, 2005.
CITES protects certain species of fish, wildlife and plants against overexploitation by regulating trade in the species. Species listed in Appendix II are those that may become threatened with extinction unless trade is strictly regulated.
For any trade of these species, CITES requires that the country of origin must issue a valid export permit. A permit can only be obtained if it has been determined that the export of the species will not be detrimental to the species’ survival and that the specimen was not obtained in violation of wildlife protection laws. The country of re-export must issue a valid re-export certificate. The export permit or re-export certificate must be obtained prior to importation into the United States.
The government’s tools to combat the over-harvesting and exploitation of timber and plants were expanded last year when Congress passed the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 which became effective May 22, 2008. The law amended the Lacey Act by extending its protection to a broader range of plants and plant products. The Lacey Act now, among other things, makes it unlawful, beginning Dec. 15, 2008, to import certain plants and plant products without an import declaration. The purpose of the amendments is to protect timber and plants from illegal harvest such as is occurring in parts of tropical rainforests and from exploitation before they need protection under CITES.
The investigation was conducted by special agents of the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The case was prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.