HSI Environmental Case Featured In Anti-Timber Trafficking Training in Vietnam

When a Florida couple is sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison for illegally importing and selling up to $65 million worth of plywood products, it provides an excellent opportunity to showcase the investigation that uncovered significant violations of the Lacey Act and customs laws.

In addition to the sentence, a federal judge ordered Noel and Kelsy Hernandez Quintana to pay more than $42.4 million in forfeitures and more than $1.6 million in storage costs incurred by the government.

Details of the investigation were presented by Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Global Trade Investigations Division, Wildlife and Environmental Crimes Unit (WECU) during a recent four-day Anti-Timber Trafficking Training in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Participants included the director of trade enforcement and deputy assistant of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR); International Programs for U.S. Department of Agriculture and Forest Service; WECU; U.S. embassy personnel; and prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Approximately 50 Vietnamese law enforcement officers from multiple agencies, such as the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Forest Protection Department, and Vietnam Customs; several non-governmental organizations; and members of Vietnam’s timber and wood products industry also participated.

“By collaborating with the government of Vietnam in the fight to protect natural resources, HSI leverages its vast statutory authority, unique access to customs and financial data, and its years of expertise investigating cross-border criminal activity to inflict maximum disruptive effects against transnational organized crime networks,” said WECU Section Chief Francisco Gerardo.

The Homeland Security (HSI) Miami Field Office led the investigation with support from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Animal and Plant Health Investigation Service.

“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to pursuing individuals or entities that attempt to defraud the government of millions of dollars, violate U.S. customs laws and undermine a fair marketplace for businesses,” said Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury of the HSI-Miami field office. “These types of criminal activities only serve to negatively impact the U.S. economy and we will continue to work with our federal law enforcement partners to combat this illicit activity.”

“The enforcement of customs laws serves an integral part of U.S. foreign policy and trade policy,” said U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida. “In this case, the defendants undermined U.S. policy by evading legally mandated customs duties on plywood manufactured in China using Russian timber. Moreover, by doing so, the defendants covered up their criminal scheme to violate federal environmental law, while also unjustly enriching themselves. This case shows the importance of prosecuting customs and environmental offenses.”

“This case clearly illustrates the ties between natural resource crime and customs laws, and is the result of excellent investigative work by customs officers, import specialists and Homeland Security Investigations,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

More on this case, prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, can be found here.