Lacey Act Violation: $42 million fine, five years prison.


A Florida couple were both sentenced to 57 months in prison for illegally importing and selling between $25 million and $65 million worth of plywood products in violation of the Lacey Act and customs laws. 

In addition to their prison sentences, Noel and Kelsy Hernandez Quintana were ordered to pay, jointly and severally, $42,417,318.50 in forfeitures, as well as $1,630,324.46 in storage costs incurred by the government when the Quintanas declined to abandon illegal wood seized by the government, thus forcing the government to maintain the wood in storage pending resolution of the case.

The Quintanas were also ordered to serve three years of supervised release following their prison sentences, during which time they are prohibited in engaging in businesses regarding importing or exporting in products specifically protected under the Lacey Act.

Their employee, Marta Angelbello, was sentenced to three years of probation to include 90 days in home detention and was ordered to pay a fine of $3,000.

“Illegal timber trafficking has serious environmental effects. Also, accurate plant import declarations protect domestic producers from dumping by foreign countries and detect potential over-harvesting and trade in timber from high-risk sources,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “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.”

“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 Homeland Security (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.”

According to court filings, the Quintanas and Angelbello together engaged in a sophisticated scheme to evade antidumping and countervailing duties owed on hardwood plywood products made in China by falsely declaring the species, country of origin or country of harvest of the wood from which the plywood was made. At times they caused containers of plywood to be shipped from China to Malaysia or Sri Lanka, for example, where the wood was taken out of the original containers and put into a second set of containers to conceal the Chinese origin of the product. 

The Quintanas incorporated seven companies in the United States – naming relatives or friends as corporate officers and agents – and used these shell companies to import hundreds of shipments of plywood products into the United States between February 2016 and December 2020. The Quintanas also incorporated a financial shell company through which they accepted payments from purchasers for the plywood they imported in violation of law, including the Lacey Act and customs laws.

When importing plant products, the Lacey Act requires filing a declaration which contains, among other things, the plant’s scientific name and its country of harvest. The Lacey Act makes it unlawful to transport or sell a plant product knowing it or the plant it was made from was transported in violation of any plant-related law. Customs laws prohibit false statements in any import declaration without reasonable cause to believe the truth of such statement. It is also illegal to import merchandise contrary to law, including the Lacey Act.

According to the Quintana’s October plea agreement, softwood plywood – regardless of country of export – carried a general duty of 8%, with a few duty-free exceptions, such as if the outer ply was made from Parana pine. Antidumping and countervailing duties of more than 200% applied to hardwood plywood manufactured in China after approximately April 2017.

Before April 2017, the Quintana’s importing shell companies imported containers of plywood into the United States and almost exclusively declared them to be hardwood plywood imported from China. But after April 2017, the companies evaded applicable duties by falsely declaring their hardwood plywood imports from China to be either the product of another country or to be made with a species of wood not subject to duties.

For example, a declaration from July 2018 said plywood in three containers was manufactured in Russia. But the containers were manufactured and loaded in Qingdao, China, and transported to Port Everglades, Florida, through the Panama Canal, without ever stopping in Russia. After federal authorities stopped such a shipment through Panama, the Quintanas used a different tactic to evade duties by shipping Chinese-produced hardwood plywood to Malaysia and transferring the wood to new containers to be shipped onward to the United States. This change of containers was intended to better conceal that the plywood originated from China. 

The Quintana also falsely declared some shipments of softwood plywood to be duty-free Parana pine, which allowed them to evade the 8% general duty on these imports.

Additional court filings reflect that, after being alerted to the possibility of prosecution for their illegal acts, the Quintanas fled the United States initially to Panama and then to Montenegro where they were the subject of extradition proceedings.

The couple pleaded guilty to conspiring to import hardwood plywood in violation of the Lacey Act and customs laws and conspiring to sell the illegally imported plywood. Noel Quintana also pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling and one count of importing plant products without filing a declaration including the scientific name and name of the country from which the plants were taken. Kelsy Quintana also pleaded guilty to two counts of importing plant products without filing a declaration including the scientific name and name of the country where the plant was harvested.

HSI investigated the case with support from Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Animal and Plant Health Investigation Service.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and attorneys from the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section prosecuted the case.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at or at


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