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The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.

December 20, 2010 at 3:22 PM

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Bellevue man sentenced to prison for counterfeit honey scheme

Posted by John de Leon

A Bellevue man was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to one year and a day in prison, six months of home detention and ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution in connection with an international honey-smuggling operation.

Chung Po Liu, 70, pleaded guilty in August to a felony charge of importing goods by means of false statements. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Liu is the president of two companies, Rainier Cascade and Evergreen Produce, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The charges alleged the companies purchased honey in China and then had it shipped to other countries where the country-of-origin labels were replaced. The U.S. Attorney's Office said Liu tried to avoid paying huge anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese honey by claiming the product was from Thailand or the Philippines.

Since 2001, the U.S. has imposed heavy anti-dumping duties against all Chinese honey imports to "offset the effects of unfair trade practices that give imports an advantage over competing U.S. goods," according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The duty imposed on Chinese honey was 183 percent between 2001 and 2007, and has been 221 percent since.

ICE alleges that Rainier Cascade had imported as many as 20 shipments of Chinese honey illegally, worth about $1.4 million. The unpaid tariffs amount to nearly $3.3 million.

Agents seized an alleged Chinese honey shipment in Long Beach, Calif., in 2007 and two others in Seattle in January and February 2008.

In the plea agreement, Liu said that a shipment of Chinese honey that arrived at the Port of Seattle in 2008 was contaminated with the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin, an unsafe food additive, and caused the honey to be adulterated.

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