WASHINGTON — Federal authorities said they have reached a settlement with two New York-based women’s apparel importers that have agreed to pay $10 million in fines for bilking the U.S. out of millions of dollars in customs duties.

The two companies, Dana Kay Inc. and Siouni & Zar Corp., violated the False Claims Act, engaging in a “fraudulent scheme” over the past decade to avoid paying duties to Customs on apparel imports from 2003 through 2012, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which filed a complaint against the companies in court.

U.S. officials said the two importers paid their apparel contractors overseas a set price to manufacture the garments, but “significantly understated the value of the apparel” when importing the clothes back to the U.S. to avoid paying customs duties.

As part of the settlement, the two apparel importers admitted responsibility for presenting to the government fraudulent commercial invoices that undervalued the total value of goods imported over the decade; paid their foreign apparel manufacturers an amount in excess of that recorded on the commercial invoices, and failed to disclose to the government the actual wholesale amount paid to their foreign apparel contractors.

The fraud was first brought to light by a whistle blower who filed a lawsuit under the False Claims Act against Dana Kay and Siouni & Zar Corp.

Under the provisions of the law, private parties who have knowledge of fraud committed against the government can file a lawsuit on behalf of the government and share in any recovery. The U.S. can then intervene and file a complaint in court, which is what the government did in this case.

“Our office is committed to pursuing those who defraud the public for private gain,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.”Here, as our complaint alleges, a whistle blower exposed a decade-long scheme to defraud the government out of millions of dollars in customs duties. Through the settlement announced today, the companies responsible for this fraud will be held to account, by having to admit to their misconduct and pay $10 million in damages and penalties.” HSI New York Special Agent in Charge James Hayes, Jr. said: “Companies that circumvent our nation’s customs laws through the use of elaborate frauds cheat the American taxpayers and their law-abiding competitors simultaneously. These two importers should serve as an example that HSI is committed to ensuring a level playing field for all who work in the international trade industry.”

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