Importer pays $500,000 fine for false claims to evade customs duties.

white bed comforter

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Earlier in February of this year, the Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs released news of a settlement by Home Furnishings Resource Group Inc. agreement to pay $500,000 in settlement for False Claims Act allegations.

Background:
Home Furnishings Resource Group Inc. (HFRG) agreed to pay the $500,000 after they were alleged to have violated the False Claims Act on customs declarations in order to avoid paying antidumping duties (ADD) on “wooden bedroom furniture” imported from China.

Customs alleged the Hermitage, Tennessee company did not pay antidumping duties from 2009 to 2014 by misclassifying furniture as “non-bedroom” on import documents. By misclassifying as “non-bedroom”, HFRG did not pay the required ADD on wooden-bedroom furniture.

Why do we have antidumping duties?
Antidumping duties protect American manufacturers against foreign companies who make the same goods at a price below cost and “dump” the products into the US. The Department of Commerce (Commerce) is responsible for assessing whether goods are dumped into the US – and if so, assign an ADD amount to those imported goods.

The addition of a duty for these goods is to protect U.S. businesses and “level the playing field for domestic companies”.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) then collects these duties – wooden bedroom furntiure’s ADD rate was 216% and non-bedroom furniture was not subject to any duty.

How was HFRG caught?
University Loft Company, a competitor of HFRG, used the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act, permitting private parties to sue on behalf of the US against those who falsely claim federal funds or, as in this case, who avoid paying funds owed to the government. The act also allows the whistleblower to receive a share of any funds recovered. University Loft Company will receive approximately $75,000.

Do you know anyone violating the False Claims Act?
If you believe an importer has been misclassifying goods to avoid payment of duties, contact David Hsu at 832-896-6288 or by email at dhsu@givensjohnston.com.