(June 18) YAKIMA, Wash. — Indictments charging that four produce companies engaged in illegal export practices in the Mexican market have been released.
The indictments, which had been sealed since November, name three exporters of U.S. apples and one potato exporter as defendants. The charges were filed in U.S. District Court in Yakima.
The exporters are:
- IM EX Trading Co.
- East Wenatchee-based Bertha’s Marketing Inc.
- Wenatchee-based Firman-Pinkerton Co. Inc.
- Center, Colo.-based Skyline Potato Co.
Also indicted with Bertha’s, Firman-Pinkerton and Skyline potato was freight forwarding company American Forwarding Inc., McAllen, Texas.
The district court reported June 9 and June 10 that indictments in two cases against American Forwarding were dismissed. The cases were terminated.
IM EX Trading was indicted on 18 counts of alleged illegal exportation of apples and stone fruit in 1999.
David Mahoney, the company’s president, and James Mahoney, its vice president, were arraigned and released June 10. A jury trial has been set for Aug. 16.
The company is accused of producing false invoices that indicated a minimum reference price of $13.72 per 42-pound carton was paid on shipments of 13 truckloads of apples to Mexico. In addition, the counts allege that the company issued false phytosanitary documents.
The indictments also said the company produced false phytosanitary documents for the export of eight truckloads of stone fruit.
The market value of the apple and stone fruit shipments was $148,185 and $114,250, respectively.
In 1997, Mexican producers brought an antidumping case against U.S. apple exporters. That case led to a 101% tariff against U.S. red and golden delicious apples.
Growers agreed to a minimum price of $13.72 per 42-pound box in 1998. That price was set until Oct. 31, 1999.
The indictments charge IM EX of illegal exportation during an eight-month period in 1999.
Mexico now imposes an import duty of 46.58% on U.S. red and golden delicious apple shipments. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service reported that the U.S. would be the biggest exporter of apples into Mexico this year.
Washington apple exporters shipped about 6.1 million boxes of apples to Mexico in 2002; 6.6 million boxes were shipped in 2001; and 9.6 million boxes were shipped in 2000, said Miles Kohl, executive director for the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association.
About 3 million boxes of apples had been shipped from Washington to Mexico as of mid-June, Kohl said.
DATING TO 1999, 2000
The charges against Bertha’s and Firman-Pinkerton were for alleged illegal activities in 1999; and charges against Skyline Potato were from 2000.
Bertha’s was indicted on charges that it used false pricing practices and phytosanitary documentation in the shipment of apples to Mexico.
Fifty-two truckloads were reportedly worth $503,595, and 29 truckloads carried a market value of $268,071. Bertha’s was indicted on 15 counts.
Also indicted on 15 counts were Firman-Pinkerton and Skyline Potato. The companies were listed together as defendants.
The indictments allege Firman-Pinkerton also used false pricing practices and phytosanitary documentation in the shipment of apples. Seventeen truckloads with a market value of $144,780 were shipped.
In addition, Firman-Pinkerton and Skyline Potato are accused of engaging in a scheme to illegally move Colorado potatoes across the Mexican border.
COLORADO SPUDS REJECTED
The indictment said that in 2000 Mexico did not allow Colorado potatoes into the country because of phytosanitary concerns. To ensure that Colorado potatoes didn’t enter the country, certificates stating country of origin were required for every shipment of potatoes.
The indictment charges that the defendants allegedly produced false origin certificates and false bills of lading. The lading documents allegedly provided false addresses for those involved in the scheme.
Eight truckloads of potatoes worth $41,872 were shipped.
Randy Bache, general manager at Skyline Potato, said the company’s legal council had advised him to make limited comments about the case.
Officials at the other companies facing indictments were either unavailable for comment or did not return phone calls.
Arraignments for Firman-Pinkerton and Skyline Potato were set for June 17.
Assistant U.S. attorney Robert Ellis did not return phone calls.