Abhishek Shukla and Harish Shabhai Panchal, both citizens of India, along with the India-based company, Jubilee Tobacco Industries Corp., were sentenced in federal District Court in Miami, for conspiring to smuggle counterfeit cigarettes into the United States.
United States District Judge Kathleen M. Williams sentenced both Shukla and Panchal to 23 months imprisonment, to be followed by supervised release for two years. Judge Williams sentenced Jubilee to corporate probation of two years and ordered Jubilee to forfeit $300,000 to the United States. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida made the announcement about Shukla and Panchal’s sentencing in a Feb. 14 press release.
All three defendants previously pled guilty to conspiring with each other, with the intent to defraud and mislead, sell and cause the sale and dispensing of a counterfeit tobacco product cigarettes. The containers and labeling bore the trade name and marks of the American brand of Newport cigarettes on approximately 68,600 cartons of cigarettes and were almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
According to court records, including a Joint Factual Statement submitted by the parties, beginning in March 2015 and continuing through August 16, 2017, the defendants initiated contact with an individual cooperating with the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, offering counterfeit cigarettes for sale. Through internet negotiations, an agreement was reached for a 20-foot container filled with counterfeit Newport brand cigarettes to be shipped from India to Miami. Payment for the shipment was made in installments through international wire transfers to bank accounts in India and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On November 1, 2016, the container arrived and was seized in Miami.
If distributed in Florida, the un-taxed importation would have an approximate value of $1.2 million.
Within two weeks of the arrival, the co-conspirators sought out FDA-OCI undercover agents offering another shipment, twice as large. By April 2017, deposits totaling $55,000 had been made for more counterfeit Newport cigarettes. On June 9, 2017, the container arrived at of Miami and was again seized with the assistance of Customs and Border Protection Officers, and turned over to FDA-OCI Special Agents. It was valued at approximately $3.2 million.