Archive for the ‘Criminal Penalties’ Category


Jul

27

Don’t Believe Everything You Read in the Newspaper


Posted by at 11:32 am on July 27, 2015
Category: BISCriminal PenaltiesIran Sanctions

Republian Herald HQ via Google Maps [Fair Use]

From the Republican Herald (Pottsvile, PA) story on a guilty plea by Falcon Instrumentation and Machinery FZE in connection with an attempted shipment by Pennsylvania-based Hetran, Inc. of a bar peeling machine to Iran:

Federal prosecutors allege the machine, valued at more than $800,000 and weighing more than 50,000 pounds, has both military and civilian uses, which meant Hetran could not ship it to Iran without obtaining a license from the U.S. government. The machine is used in the production of high-grade steel, which is used in making automobiles and aircraft parts, according to prosecutors.

As astute readers of this blog will no doubt already know, U.S. companies like Hetran can’t ship anything at all (including EAR99 items) to Iran without a license or an applicable exception. But before we jump down the throat of a poor reporter in Pottsville, let’s think about what likely happened. In doing that, realize first that local reporters like DOJ press releases more than cats love catnip. Just rewrite it a little and push send and the day’s work is done.

And, indeed, as suspected there is a DoJ press release and it says this:

Under U.S. law and regulations, American companies are forbidden to ship “dual use” items (items with civilian as well as military or proliferation applications), such as the peeler, to Iran without first obtaining a license from the U.S. Government.

Sigh. I realize the export law and economic sanctions are a somewhat complicated area of law, but it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that the government employees who are charged with sending people to jail for export violations at least make an effort to understand the laws that they enforce.

[Note: I’m on vacation this week, so this is the last post for this week; normal posting resumes next week.]

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Jul

11

That’s His Story and He’s Sticking to It


Posted by at 5:47 pm on July 11, 2015
Category: Agricultural ExportsCriminal Penalties

Midamar Halal Pizza via http://www.midamarhalal.com/Product/Pizza/Halal-Pizza/166/Halal-Beef-Pepperoni-Pizza-12in-bake-Rise.aspx [Fair Use]Back in 2014, this blog reported here and here on the indictment of Midamar Corporation for exporting non-halal meat to Malaysia and Indonesia, both countries which forbid the importation of non-halal meat products. I expressed some concern that the theory of the case turned the Department of Justice into the Islamic Religious Police given the extent to which the indictment depended on allegations that the slaughterhouse used by Midamar failed to comply with halal requirements by, e.g., using non-Muslims to slaughter animals.

The case went to the jury last Friday and it appears from local press reports (here and here) that the theory of the indictment has been narrowed. The case seems to have shifted away from the claim that the exported meat was not halal but rather that Midamar obtained meat from a slaughterhouse that had not been approved by Malaysia or Indonesia and put the number of a slaughterhouse approved by the two countries on the the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service Form 9060-6 required to accompany the export. (A spokesman for Midamar told this blog that the warehouse used by Midamar was, in fact, complying with halal requirements.)

The defense’s response to this theory is that the mislabeling was not a criminal act. The defendant, William Aossey

testified Thursday that changing the labels and documents, which are required under law for halal beef products, isn’t a criminal offense.

“It’s a minor labeling infraction, nothing criminal about it,” Aossey said told jurors.

He admitted to changing the establishment number belonging to PM Beef in Windom, Minn., to another number belonging to J.F. O’Neill Packing Co. in Omaha, Neb., because PM wasn’t approved to export beef to Malaysia and Indonesia during the years 2007 to 2010.

At first, this seems to be pretty much game over for the defense, given the defendant’s apparent admission in open court that he faked the establishment numbers on the USDA Export Certificate. Of course, Aossey admitted changing the numbers because the evidence on that count appears to have been overwhelming. The strategy of the defense, as set forth in its motion to dismiss the indictment, is that the USDA has exclusive authority over meat misbranding and false statements on USDA export certificates. Moreover, the defense argued this exclusive jurisdiction extends to prevent prosecution for such acts under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 ,a/k/a the “Martha Stewart” law, which criminalizes false statements made to federal officers and agencies.

The trial judge was having none of this and denied Aossey’s motion to dismiss. So, the defense ploy here is to hope for jury nullification and, if that doesn’t work, set up grounds for an appeal.

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Jun

19

The Ostriches and the Kookaburra: A Fable for Our Time


Posted by at 8:38 am on June 19, 2015
Category: BISCriminal Penalties

Ostrich, Wainstalls by James Preston [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamespreston/8485895143[cropped]

Two austere ostriches, Osgood and Osbad, who lived near an old gum tree somewhere in the Australian outback, ran a successful business buying cattle prods made by Cow Poke, Inc., located in Kankakee, Illinois, and selling them to cattle farmers in Australia. One day they received an order from the kookaburra who lived in their old gum tree for one of their cattle prods. He even offered cash in advance and said that he would have many other orders in the future.

Osgood looked quizically at the kookaburra and wondered why a kookaburra might need a cattle prod, but decided not to ask. As it was an unusually warm afternoon, he decided to cool off by burying his head in the sand.

Osbad, dreaming of future orders and hoping to buy a bus trip to Perth for a holiday weekend, asked the kookaburra to hand over the money and promised to bring him a cattle prod right after he paid the money, which he did.

“Don’t you wonder,” said the kookaburra, “what on earth I could possibly do with a cattle prod?”

“No!” said Osbad, “I DO NOT!! It’s quite hot and I think I’ll join my mate Osgood and cool off by burying my head in the sand.”

“Actually,” said the kookaburra, “I’m selling them to my customers in Iran,” but by the time he had said the word “Iran,” Osbad’s head was completely covered with sand and he couldn’t hear a word that the kookaburra was saying.

When the Cow Poke Cattle Prods were discovered in Iran, investigators for the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) traced them back to Osgood and Osbad. The Australians served a provisional arrest warrant on the two ostriches who were subsequently extradited to the United States for trial. Once the jurors heard that Osgood and Osbad buried their heads in the sand, it was all over for poor birds, and they were convicted and sentenced to 6 years in a maximum security prison.

On appeal to the Seventh Circuit, Judge Posner upheld the conviction of Osbad and reversed the conviction of Osgood. He noted

There is no evidence that suspecting he might be [helping the kookaburra sell cattle prods to Iran, Osgood] took active steps to avoid having his suspicions confirmed. Suppose [the kookaburra] had said to him “let me tell you [where the cattle prods are really going],” and he had replied: “I don’t want to know.” That would be ostrich behavior (mythical ostrich behavior—ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand when frightened; if they did, they would asphyxiate themselves). An ostrich instruction should not be given unless there is evidence that the defendant engaged in behavior that could reasonably be interpreted as having been intended to shield him from confirmation of his suspicion that he was involved in criminal activity. [This is exactly what Osbad did, which is why we reverse for Osgood and uphold the conviction for Osbad.]

Osbad remained in maximum security prison, while Osgood was allowed to return to the outback in Australia. On his return, Osgood found a letter from BIS indicating that it had entered a thirty-year export denial order and fined him $250,000 for the sale of the cattle prods to Iran, noting that while ignoring red flags, without more, might save you from jail, it would not save you from the wrath of BIS.

Morale: If you’re going to bury your head in the sand, do it before the kookaburra sings.

The Seventh Circuit opinion in United States v. Macias, which I adapted here, makes clear that simply ignoring red flags is not enough to support the criminal intent necessary for  a conviction. The failure to engage in further due diligence in the face of red flags is not, in Judge Posner’s view, sufficient. Instead, there must be some “active avoidance” of learning the facts that the red flags suggest may be probable.  Another example of active avoidance given in the opinion involves a hypothetical situation where a landlord, fearing he has rented his property to drug dealers, changes his normal commuting route to avoid driving by the house, fearing he might see drug activity if he did.  The “active” in the “avoidance” here is changing the route.

A fuller and more serious discussion of United States v. Macias, written by my colleague Mark Srere and me, can be found here.

[Apologies to James Thurber.]

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May

12

Federal Court Strikes Down Warrantless Border Search in Iran Export Case


Posted by at 11:23 pm on May 12, 2015
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran Sanctions

Los Angeles International Airport by Daniel Betts [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/redlegsfan21/13789084574A federal district court judge in the District of Columbia last week granted a motion to suppress evidence obtained by a DHS Special Agent after a laptop was seized from a departing passenger at LAX and subsequently subjected to a comprehensive forensic search. Prosecutors attempted to defend the search as a routine border search which could be conducted without reasonable suspicion of any kind and without any warrant. The court held that the search was impermissible both because the government had no reasonable suspicion of “ongoing or imminent” criminal behavior and because the search was an extensive forensic search conducted away from the border after the passenger had long departed the country.

In the case at issue, the DHS had some evidence that the defendant, five years prior to the search, had shipped items to China knowing that they were going to be transshipped to Iran. When the investigating special agent learned that the defendant had traveled to the United States, the agent decided to have CBP seize the defendant’s laptop at LAX when he departed the country. The laptop was then shipped to San Diego where the hard drive was imaged. Specialized software was then used to search the contents of the hard drive. More than 20,000 files and a large number of emails were retrieved which, after review by the special agent, provided evidence of the Iran exports that occurred five years earlier. The special agent then applied for, and obtained, a search warrant seeking authority to seize those emails and documents which then served as a basis for the prosecution before the federal district court in the District of Columbia.

The Court’s decision that the search was unreasonable relied on a number of factors. First, the court noted that suspicion of prior criminal activity was not a reasonable suspicion that could support a warrantless search at the border. Such a search could only be justified on the basis of a suspicion of imminent or ongoing criminal activity, not past criminal activity, and there was no reason for the agent to suspect ongoing or imminent criminal activity. Instead he was just fishing for evidence of past criminal activity.

Second, the court distinguished the type of search that occurred from a routine border search that could be justified by reasonable suspicion of ongoing or imminent criminal activity. The court noted that the actual search occurred long after the passenger had departed and at hundreds of miles from the border where the laptop was seized. Additionally, it was a search of unlimited scope and unlimited duration. This, the court felt, was far different from opening and examining a passengers luggage or briefcase at the border for a search prior to departure.

The court also seemed troubled by misrepresentations made by the DHS Special Agent when he did finally apply for a warrant to seize the documents obtained from the defendant’s hard drive. The affidavit in support of the application for a warrant represented to the court that the warrant was needed to enable a search of the “mind-boggling” amount of data on the hard drive and that the extraction of the data “may take weeks or months.” In fact, this was all a charade (to use a polite term); all of the extraction had already occurred and no further searches of the hard drive were thereafter conducted by the DHS special agent or the government.

Although the court did not directly focus on this, another factor seems dispositive here. Warrantless searches are normally justified by some exigency for the search which makes it difficult to obtain a warrant in advance. In a typical border search, the luggage or briefcase being examined is about to leave the country and seeking a warrant before that departure would be impractical. Here, however, the government had the luxury of all the time in the world to image the hard drive and examine its contents. There is no possible reason as to why it was impractical to get a warrant before extracting the data and rifling through its contents.

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Apr

29

Florida Man Sentenced for Brokering Dual-Use Exports


Posted by at 10:10 pm on April 29, 2015
Category: BISCriminal Penalties

Universal Industries HQ via Google Maps https://goo.gl/maps/TNQDh [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Universal Industries HQ


Russell Henderson Marshall, a UK citizen living in Florida, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 41 months in prison and deportation on charges that he brokered dual-use items listed on the Commerce Control List. Yes, that’s right — for brokering non-USML items listed on the CCL. Because there is no prohibition on unlicensed brokering of items on the CCL, you may wonder how this happened.

To understand how this happened, we have to go back to 2012 when Universal Industries Limited, Inc., was slapped by the Bureau of Industry and Security with an Order Denying Export Privileges based on Universal’s conviction under the Arms Export Control Act for unlicensed exports of military aircraft parts. The order prohibited Universal or any of its employees from “carrying on negotiations concerning … any item … to be exported from the United States.”

Marshall was the CEO of Universal and was charged with two counts of violating the denial order. The first count, as described in the factual proffer supporting Marshall’s guilty plea, alleged that he sent an email to a potential U.S. purchaser quoting a price for three aircraft temperature sensors. A document recovered after a BIS agent did some dumpster diving behind Universal’s office.  Documents found in the trash revealed that the sensors were destined for the Royal Air Force of Thailand. The second count alleged that Marshall exchanged emails with a U.S. company related to a jet aircraft part to be exported to the Pakistan Air Force. The content of the emails sent by Marshall are not revealed.

Oddly, the factual proffer devotes considerable space to establishing that the items involved were ECCN 9A619.x. Given that the Denial Order would be violated if Marshall sent an email with a price quote for a Snickers Bar that was to be sent to Canada as a family birthday gift, it is not quite clear why the documents go to such length to establish that the items were not simply EAR99.

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