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Press Release

Former Head Of Major New York Caviar Distributor Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court And Will Be Deported For Multi-Million Dollar Customs Fraud Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that Italian citizen ISIDORO “MARIO” GARBARINO was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court to time served – approximately four months in prison – and will be deported for unlawfully importing more than 100,000 pounds of Russian and Iranian caviar, valued at more than $10 million, into the U.S. between 1984 and 1987. GARBARINO was first arrested on these charges in July 1987, but fled the country in July 1989 while he was free on bail. He remained a fugitive until his arrest by the U.S. Marshals in September 2012, and ultimately pled guilty in November 2012. GARBARINO was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy.

According to the Complaint, the Indictment, GARBARINO’s plea agreement, statements made in court proceedings, and other public documents:

At the time of his arrest in 1987, GARBARINO was the president and owner of the now-defunct Aquamar Gourmet Imports, Inc. (“Aquamar”), a company that supplied luxury food items, including Russian and Iranian caviar, to prominent New York City gourmet stores such as Zabar’s, and to some of the world’s largest air and cruise lines. At that time, certain Russian and Iranian goods that were imported into the U.S., including caviar, were taxed at a high rate—approximately 30 percent.

Between 1984 and 1987, GARBARINO and Aquamar used several schemes to avoid the tariffs, which were administered according to the value of the goods being imported. For example, GARBARINO would significantly understate the weight and value of the caviar he was importing by placing orders for thousands of pounds of caviar—with a wholesale value of hundreds of thousands of dollars—while declaring to the United States Customs Service that he was importing a small fraction of that amount. In another scheme, GARBARINO would arrange for Russian or Iranian caviar to land at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, purportedly for immediate exportation to customers overseas. Immediate exports, which were never supposed to leave the airport, were exempt from U.S. tariffs. GARBARINO, however, would secretly substitute much cheaper American caviar for the expensive Russian or Iranian caviar that had just arrived. He would then export the domestic goods, and unlawfully import and sell the foreign caviar to his U.S. customers. In so doing, GARBARINO avoided paying the required tariffs to the United States for the expensive foreign caviar, and defrauded his international customers who were paying full price for the imported caviar, but were instead receiving the cheaper American caviar. Through these schemes, GARBARINO was able to unlawfully import more than 100,000 pounds of Russian and Iranian caviar into the United States with a then-wholesale value in excess of $10 million.

Prior to today’s sentencing and as a condition of his plea agreement with the Government, GARBARINO, 69, paid $3 million in restitution to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection which represents the duties, penalties, and accrued interest owed for the unlawfully imported caviar described above.

Mr. Bharara thanked the New York Field Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and its predecessor, the U.S. Customs Service, for their assistance in the investigation.

The case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Edward B. Diskant is in charge of the prosecution.

Updated May 13, 2015

Press Release Number: 13-008