It is difficult to imagine looking for a woman’s dress and NOT shopping at JC Penney’s, Belk’s, Sears, Nordstrom’s, Lord and Taylor or online at “overstock.com”. Yet, to avoid purchasing clothes that were manufactured overseas, and imported to the United States under false pretenses, one would have to find somewhere else to shop to be completely sure. Motives, Motives Far East, Richard Stotter, and Barry Blikstein have all agreed to pay the federal government $13,375,000 to settle a False Claims Act case. The various defendants are alleged to have “undervalued” their imports to avoid paying millions of dollars in tariffs. The recent settlement is the largest customs fraud case ever resolved in New York. Interestingly, the settlement follows a similar settlement in 2014 by Dana Kay and Danny & Nicole, also importers of women’s dresses, in the amount of $10 million. Thus, in less than two years, dress producers have paid over $23 million to the federal government to settle False Claims Act cases involving the underpayment of applicable duties.
The fraudulent scheme was well hidden in these closely held corporations. The scheme was fairly simplistic in that Motives would supply a commercial invoice to US Customs officials declaring the value of the imported clothing items without disclosing that a separate payment was made to the factory for the same items. This fraudulent procedure, referred to as “undervaluing”, went on for over 10 years. In the case of Motives, the procedure involved preparing a “cost sheet” pricing out the cost of a particular garment and then deducting as much as $2.50 per garment BEFORE calculating the customs duty owed (generally around 24%) and then adding the $2.50 back into the amount to be paid for the garment. This scheme would result in ripping off Uncle Sam by between $.55 and $.75 per garment; however, since Motives was importing millions of dresses, skirts and other men’s and women’s garments, the fraud amounted to a significant loss to United States taxpayers.
“Customs fraud is a somewhat intricate area as there are many ways for an importer to “value” the imported product; however, this was a fairly straightforward fraud”, said Michael D Fitzgerald, a lawyer in Eatontown representing the whistleblower who initiated this case under the federal False Claims Act.