2017-December – Becerra Law, P.A. represented the president of a freight forwarding company in Doral, Florida in a criminal case charging her with evasion of cigarette taxes in violation of Florida Statutes, a third degree felony. The case arose when agents of the State of Florida’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (“ABT”) inspected the freight forwarder’s warehouse in January, 2017 and discovered pallets of cigarettes in boxes marked “For Export” that did not have any tax stamps showing that domestic cigarette taxes had been paid. The agents seized the cigarettes. The freight forwarder did not have an exporter or wholesaler permit for cigarettes, but had been storing the cigarettes for their owner, a company in Jamaica. Periodically, pursuant to the Jamaican owner’s instructions, the freight forwarder would arrange the export of a portion of the cigarettes to Jamaica. None of the cigarettes were shipped or sold domestically. A few months after their inspection, the ABT agents informed the president of the freight forwarding company that she was being charged with evasion of cigarette taxes and possession of unstamped cigarettes, both felonies. After getting that call, the president retained Becerra Law, P.A. and its principal, Robert J. Becerra, B.C.S., to represent her.
After shepherding the president of the freight forwarder through the booking process and bonding her out, Becerra prepared a presentation to the state prosecutor explaining that pursuant to both Florida Statutes and the Federal Constitution’s Commerce and Export Clauses, there are no Florida taxes on cigarettes that are exported to foreign countries. Since the freight forwarder possessed the cigarettes only for export to the owner in Jamaica, no tax was owed, and therefore the president of the freight forwarder could not have evaded cigarette taxes. After analyzing Becerra’s presentation, the prosecutor agreed with Becerra, and pursuant to negotiations, the State of Florida agreed to dismiss the felony charges, and instead agreed to allow the president to plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge of failing to have a permit to export cigarettes. No fine, tax or sentence was imposed. As a result of this experience with the State of Florida, the freight forwarder no longer stores or ships cigarettes, as one can see that cigarettes are not only bad for one’s health.