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LA Fashion District Wholesaler Sentenced for Customs Violations, Tax Offenses

The owner of a garment wholesaling company in the Fashion District of downtown Los Angeles was sentenced to 12 months and one day in federal prison this week for a litany of offenses.

Sang Bum “Ed” Noh, 67, of Bel-Air, who owns Ambiance Apparel, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips for scheming to undervalue imported garments and avoid paying millions of dollars in duties to the United States, failing to report millions of dollars in income on tax returns and failing to report large cash transactions to the federal government. The case against Ambiance and Noh was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles, IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) , LA IMPACT, and the police departments of Long Beach, Los Angeles Police, Gardena and West Covina.

Ambiance Apparel–the operating name for two corporations, Ambiance U.S.A. Inc. and Apparel Line U.S.A. Inc.–pleaded guilty in October 2020 to eight criminal counts, including conspiracy, money laundering and customs offenses, was sentenced to a term of five years’ probation and has been ordered to implement an effective anti-money laundering compliance and ethics program with an outside compliance monitor.

There is a restitution order in this case for $35.28 million, a forfeiture money judgment of $81.56 million and the additional forfeiture of $1.1 million previously seized by law enforcement.

Court documents outline separate schemes involving Ambiance and Noh that came to an end in September 2014. Law enforcement authorities led by HSI executed dozens of search warrants as part of an investigation into money laundering and other crimes at Fashion District businesses.

Noh “made defrauding the United States a significant revenue stream for Ambiance,” appropriating approximately $35.28 million from CBP and the Internal Revenue Service in less than four years,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “While [Noh] was cheating the United States and facilitating money laundering [by failing to file Forms 8300], he enjoyed a house in Bel Air, bought luxury cars, and squirreled away bundles of cash worth $35 million in shoeboxes and garbage bags.”

In the customs fraud scheme, Ambiance imported clothing from Asian countries and submitted fraudulent invoices to CBP that undervalued the shipments and allowed Ambiance to avoid paying the full amount of tariffs owed on the imports. At Noh’s direction, the Asian manufacturers prepared two invoices for the clothing ordered by Ambiance–one that usually reflected 60 percent to 70 percent of the actual price and was paid by letter of credit, and one that reflected the balance of the actual price and was paid by wire transfer.

The first invoice, which stated only 60 percent to 70 percent of the shipment’s value, was fraudulently submitted to CBP and was used to calculate the tariffs due on the imports. As a result of this scheme, over the course of just over four and a half years, Ambiance undervalued imports by about $82.6 million and failed to pay more than $17.1 million in tariffs.

Ambiance also failed to file reports with the Secretary of the Treasury that documented cash transactions of more than $10,000. Ambiance employees received approximately 364 payments of more than $10,000 over a two-year period that totaled more than $11.1 million and the company failed to file a single Form 8300 to alert federal authorities to the cash transactions.

In conjunction with transactions made at Ambiance’s storefront, Ambiance used two sets of books to record sales, one of which documented only cash transactions and was not reported to Ambiance’s outside accountants. Noh also directed some of the second set of transactions to be under-reported to the accountants.

The lower sales figures were reported on 2011 and 2012 tax returns filed by Noh, who alsofailed to report income for those two years and owed the IRS a total more than $16.8 million, which includes unpaid taxes, penalties and interest. The $16.81 million Noh owed to the IRS and the $18.42 million he owed to CBP have been provided to the court from seized funds.

The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California’s International Narcotics, Money Laundering and Racketeering Section and Asset Forfeiture Section.

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