Crime & Courts

Florida couple who may have used Malaysia as transit to illegally import plywood into US, sentenced to 57 months jail

KUALA LUMPUR: Florida couple Noel and Kelsy Hernandez Quintana have been handed a 57-month prison sentence for their involvement in illegally importing and selling plywood products worth between US$25 million and US$65 million.

In addition to the prison sentence meted out by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), they were ordered to pay forfeitures totaling US$42,417,318.50 or RM 202,733,573.77 along with US$1,630,324.46 or RM 7,792,135.76 in storage costs incurred by the government due to their refusal to abandon the seized illegal wood, resulting in the government having to store it in a storage facility until the case was resolved.

After the prison sentence, the couple are also required to serve three years of supervised release, during which they are prohibited from participating in businesses related to importing or exporting products protected under the Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act is a conservation law first enacted in 1900, to combat trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, fish, or plants.

However, the 2008 Farm Bill brought about amendments to the Lacey Act and extended protections to a broader range of plants and plant products, making it unlawful to import certain products into US without an import declaration.

According to the court documents, the wood products which were shipped from China to Malaysia or Sri Lanka before reaching the United States, had also been illegally concealed by the Quintanas who decided to conceal the Chinese origin plywood products by transferring them into a set of different containers.

Apart from the Quintanas, their employee, Marta Angelbello was also detained and sentenced in relation to the case and received three years of probation with 90 days of home detention and a fine of US$3,000.

Court documents revealed that the Quintanas and Angelbello collaborated on a complex scheme to evade duties on hardwood plywood products from China by falsifying declarations about the wood's species, country of origin, or harvest location.

The Quintanas orchestrated a scheme involving the shipment of plywood from China to Malaysia or Sri Lanka and also established seven US-based shell companies, using relatives or acquaintances as figureheads, to import numerous plywood shipments into the US from February 2016 to December 2020.

Additionally, the couple also set up a financial shell company to process payments from buyers for the illegally imported plywood, violating laws such as the Lacey Act and customs regulations.

According to court filings sighted on the DOJ website, the Quintanas and Angelbello together engaged in a sophisticated scheme to evade antidumping and countervailing duties owed on hardwood plywood products made in China by falsely declaring the species, country of origin or country of harvest of the wood from which the plywood was made.

It also stated in the filing that the couple, after being alerted to the possibility of prosecution for their illegal acts, fled the United States to Panama and then to Montenegro where they were the subject of extradition proceedings.

The couple pleaded guilty to conspiring to import hardwood plywood in violation of the Lacey Act and customs laws and conspiring to sell the illegally imported plywood.

Noel also pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling and one count of importing plant products without filing a declaration including the scientific name and name of the country from which the plants were taken.

Kelsy also pleaded guilty to two counts of importing plant products without filing a declaration including the scientific name and name of the country where the plant was harvested.

US Homeland Security investigated the case supported by Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Animal and Plant Health Investigation Service.

Most Popular
Related Article
Says Stories