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Saturday, October 24, 2015
Lumber Liquidators Guilty Plea Costs Them $13 Million
According to the Department of Justice-Virginia-based hardwood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators Inc. pleaded guilty today in federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, to environmental crimes related to its illegal importation of hardwood flooring, much of which was manufactured in China from timber that had been illegally logged in far eastern Russia, in the habitat of the last remaining Siberian tigers and Amur leopards in the world, announced the Department of Justice.
Lumber Liquidators was charged earlier this month in the Eastern District of Virginia with one felony count of importing goods through false statements and four misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act, which makes it a crime to import timber that was taken in violation of the laws of a foreign country and to transport falsely-labeled timber across international borders into the United States. The charges describe Lumber Liquidators’ use of timber that was illegally logged in Far East Russia. This is the first felony conviction related to the import or use of illegal timber and the largest criminal fine ever under the Lacey Act.
“Lumber Liquidators’ race to profit resulted in the plundering of forests and wildlife habitat that, if continued, could spell the end of the Siberian tiger,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Lumber Liquidators knew it had a duty to follow the law, and instead it flouted the letter and spirit of the Lacey Act, ignoring its own red flags that its products likely came from illegally harvested timber, all at the expense of law abiding competitors. Under this plea agreement, Lumber Liquidators will pay a multi-million dollar penalty, forfeit millions in assets, and must adhere to a rigorous compliance program. We hope this sends a strong message that we will not tolerate such abuses of U.S. laws that protect and preserve the world’s endangered plant and animal species.”
According to a joint statement of facts filed with the court, from 2010 to 2013, Lumber Liquidators repeatedly failed to follow its own internal procedures and failed to take action on self-identified “red flags.” Those red flags included imports from high risk countries, imports of high risk species, imports from suppliers who were unable to provide documentation of legal harvest and imports from suppliers who provided false information about their products. Despite internal warnings of risk and non-compliance, very little changed at Lumber Liquidators.
On other occasions, Lumber Liquidators falsely reported the species or harvest country of timber when it was imported into the United States. In 2013, Lumber Liquidators imported Mongolian oak from Far East Russia which it declared to be Welsh oak and imported merpauh from Myanmar which it declared to be mahogany from Indonesia.
The illegal cutting of Mongolian oak in far eastern Russia is of particular concern because those forests are home to the last 450 wild Siberian tigers, Panthera tigris altaica. Illegal logging is considered the primary risk to the tigers’ survival, because they are dependent on intact forests for hunting and because Mongolian oak acorns are a chief food source for the tigers’ prey species. Mongolian oak forests are also home to the highly endangered Amur leopard Panthera pardus orientalis, of which fewer than 50 remain in the wild. In June 2014, in response to illegal logging and the decline in tiger populations, Mongolian oak was added to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.
Under the plea agreement, Lumber Liquidators will pay $13.15 million, including $7.8 million in criminal fines, $969,175 in criminal forfeiture and more than $1.23 million in community service payments. Lumber Liquidators has also agreed to a five year term of organizational probation and mandatory implementation of a government-approved environmental compliance plan and independent audits. In addition, the company will pay more than $3.15 million in cash through a related civil forfeiture. The more than $13.15 million dollar penalty is the largest financial penalty for timber trafficking under the Lacey Act and one of the largest Lacey Act penalties ever. The company is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 1, 2016.