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Drug Cartel Linked to $6.4M Customs Fraud Case

The Justice Department announced that a California-based clothing wholesale company pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for undervaluing imported garments in a scheme to avoid paying almost $6.4 million in customs duties and for doing business with a woman in Mexico with ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel.

The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Export Enforcement, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and the IRS Criminal Investigation provided significant assistance.

Ghacham Inc., which does business under the “Platini” brand name, was charged in a two-count information with conspiracy to pass false and fraudulent papers through a customhouse and conspiracy to engage in any transaction or dealing in properties of a specially designated narcotics trafficker under a statute known as the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

Also charged was Mohamed Daoud Ghacham, of Bell, Calif., and a Ghacham Inc. executive, hit with one count of conspiracy to pass false and fraudulent papers through a customhouse. Defendants signed plea agreements filed in United States District Court and are expected to make initial court appearances Nov. 18, according to CBP.

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Ghacham Inc. imported clothing from China and submitted fraudulent invoices to CBP that undervalued the shipments, allowing it to avoid paying the full amount of tariffs owed on imports, according to court documents cited by CBP.

HSI with evidence boxes

At Mohamed Ghacham’s direction, the Chinese suppliers prepared two invoices for the clothing ordered by Ghacham Inc.–a true invoice that reflected the actual price paid for the goods, and a fraudulent “customs invoice,” which reflected an understated price, CBP said. Ghacham Inc. submitted the customs invoices to CBP and customs brokers to fraudulently reduce the tariffs owed on the imports, while it maintained the true invoices in its accounting records.

Ghacham Inc. and Mohamed Ghacham admitted that, between July 2011 and February 2021, they undervalued imported garments by more than $32 million and failed to pay customs duties of approximately $6.39 million. Ghacham Inc. also illegally conducted business with Maria Tiburcia Cazarez Perez in violation of the Kingpin Act, which prohibits people and businesses in the United States from doing business with her, CBP noted.

Cazarez Perez was previously designated a “Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers” under the Kingpin Act for her participation in the financial network of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia and Victor Emilio Cazares Salazar, said to be leaders of the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel. Cazares Salazar was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for drug trafficking activities in federal cases out of San Diego and New York City.

Upon entering guilty pleas, Ghacham Inc. will face a statutory maximum penalty of a $10.5 million fine and five years’ probation, during which time it will be required to implement an effective anti-money laundering compliance and ethics program with an outside compliance monitor. Mohamed Ghacham will face up to five years in federal prison.

Assistant United States Attorneys Alexander B. Schwab of the Major Frauds Section and Diana L. Pauli of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering and Racketeering Section are prosecuting the case. This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move.