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Caviar caper ends with deportation and $3-million fine

January 07, 2013|By Tina Susman

NEW YORK -- A former caviar salesman who evaded justice for 23 years after being accused of illegally importing millions of dollars' worth of fancy fish eggs into the United States was ordered deported Monday after pleading guilty in federal court.

Isidoro Garbarino, an Italian citizen, also was sentenced to time he has already served, which prosecutors said amounted to about four months in prison. The sentencing ended a case that began in July 1987 when Garbarino was arrested on charges of illegally importing more than 100,000 pounds of Russian and Iranian caviar into the United States. The wholesale value of the goods, at that time, was estimated at $10 million.

Garbarino ran a now-defunct gourmet food import business in the Bronx whose clients included high-end food stores as well as cruise lines and airlines.

According to prosecutors, Garbarino evaded high U.S. taxes on imported caviar by understating the weight and value of his goods to customs officials. He also was accused of lying to officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, claiming the expensive caviar arriving from Iran and Russia would be immediately re-exported and never leave the airport -- and hence not be subject to U.S. taxes.

In reality, prosecutors alleged, Garbarino spirited the expensive caviar out of the airport and swapped it for cheaper U.S. caviar, which was then re-exported.

Prosecutors who first went after Garbarino in 1987 said his victims included airlines such as Pan Am, which paid beluga prices -- as much as $300 per ounce at the time -- for cheaper fish eggs. 

Garbarino, then a New York City resident, pleaded guilty but fled the country in 1989 before he could be sentenced. He was rearrested last September at an airport in Panama and extradited to New York. Under a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to two counts of lying about his caviar imports.

Garbarino, now 69, could have been sentenced to as much as four years in prison, but U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy noted the age of the case, and of the defendant, in giving him time already served. Duffy also said the biggest victims of Garbarino's crimes were Garbarino himself, and his family, for the shame inflicted on them.

"For the rest of his life, he will have to face up to that fact, and if he ever has grandchildren they will say, 'Oh yes, my grandfather, he's the felon,' " said Duffy.

As part of his plea deal, Garbarino also paid $3 million in restitution to the U.S. customs service, and was ordered to leave the United States immediately after his sentencing.

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