Thursday, October 24, 2013

United States Secret Service Seizures of Motor Vehicles Using a 'Straw Buyer"

The United States Secret Service (USSS), along with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), have been seizing motor vehicles for alleged violations of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, customs fraud, and export requirements. The seizures are either made as part of a Court ordered Search or Seizure Warrant or administratively by CBP when the vehicles are presented to CBP as required prior to export. In essence, the Government has generally alleged that either the named buyer of the vehicle from the dealership is not the true owner, or the vehicle is being falsely declared to CBP as a "new" vehicle when it is really a "used" vehicle.

Persons and companies should be aware of these investigations and actions by Federal law enforcement authorities in Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, Florida, South Carolina, Texas, New Hampshire, and other locations.

CBP has issued Rulings regarding the requirements for exporting a motor vehicle. See CBP Headquarters Ruling Number HQ H235018 dated February 20, 2013, HQ H228766 dated October 2, 2012,and HQ H204515 dated May 2, 2012. All of these may be found on the CBP website at www.CBP.gov.

A number of attorneys around the United States represent owners of the seized vehicles, and are challenging the Government's actions in numerous Federal courts. It remains to be seen whether the Government's actions will ultimately succeed in forfeiting the vehicles, and related bank accounts, or whether the vehicles and funds in the bank accounts will be returned to their owners. What is certainly true is that the Government is spending a lot of time and money interviewing hundreds of potential witnesses and defendants. Persons such as buyers, exporters, and freight forwarders, who have been approached to be interviewed by Special Agents from USSS, FBI, or HSI are cautioned always to get legal counsel. What is also certainly true is that the actions by the United States Government law enforcement officials are disrupting what for years were considered legitimate business transactions. The obvious result of the Government's recent enforcement activities is that instead of auto dealers in the United States selling cars to be exported to places such as China, the vehicles will instead be shipped to places like China and sold through a dealership there. For all the foreign made vehicles that never touch the United States, for which the auto dealers in the United States never get to sell, and the sales tax is never collected by the State in which the car is sold, it is hard to see a public benefit from the Government's recent activities.

For any questions or comments on this blog post, or questions regarding the rights of owners of seized vehicles or bank accounts, please contact me.

Peter Quinter, Chair
Customs and International Trade Law GroupGrayRobinson law firm

Direct Office Phone (305) 416-6960
Mobile Phone (954) 270-1864
peter.quinter@gray-robinson.com

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