US Agents Prosecute: Lacey Act Leaves Importers Fully Exposed

American timber traders are at huge risk of prosecution with Chinese timber exporters now using third-party countries in Asia to trade into the US supply chain.

Mon 17 Jun 24


Special agents are cracking down on the surge of Chinese timber evading tariffs and entering American supply chains after a small-time timber importer was the latest to be sentenced, this time for three years probation and a US $360,000 fine after it falsified documentation to avoid paying import duties.

The sentencing comes just months after a Miami husband and wife were both sentenced to 57 months in prison for illegally importing and selling up to US $65 million of plywood manufactured in China and, in the process, violating the Lacey Act and customs laws.

Tip the Scale LLC, which operates LD Kitchen and Bath, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to a felony count of importing goods using false statements. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, between January and May 2020, the first-time offender was found to have imported five containers of wooden cabinets and vanities, declared as wood harvested in Malaysia but harvested and produced in China.

“By doing so, Tip the Scale evaded oversight of Chinese-harvested timber and more than $850,000 in import duties,” the office said, with US authorities increasingly suspicious of the surge in plywood and lumber coming from Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries in the wake of the US introducing an 85% tariffs on plywood coming from China.

The Lacey Act – like the European Union’s EUDR – is playing a major role in changing the global supply chains for timber. Footage courtesy of @EIAEnvironment.

Under the Lacey Act, wood-product importers must file a declaration detailing the genus and species of timber imported and the country where the wood was harvested. This prevents timber species that are protected, illegally logged, or misdeclared from entering the US.

In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim called the Lacey Act “our best tool in combating timber trafficking.” Meanwhile, Robert Hammer, the Homeland Security special agent in charge of the case, said that the sentencing sent a clear message of accountability for companies that violate environmental laws and deceive customs authorities.

“By falsifying import documentation, L&D Kitchen and Bath sought to gain an unfair advantage over competitors and evaded important environmental protections,” Special Agent Hammer said.

Timber importers are now at risk under beefed-up import laws.

LD Kitchen and Bath, as stated on its website and in court records, is a woman- and minority-owned small business started in 2008 and run by friends and family, according to a memo filed in court June 6 by attorneys representing the company.

“LDKB is a first-time offender. It had no intention to harm anyone,” the memo said. “It failed to act with adequate care in completing importation paperwork about the species and origin of wood imported from a third party in a foreign country.”

According to statements attributed to the business owners, LDKB – like many across North America and worldwide – had no importation department and only a general understanding of customs and trade laws, instead relying on third parties. The filing acknowledged that the business didn’t have reasonable cause to believe the truth of particular statements in paperwork related to the species and origin of wood it imported from a third party in Asia.

1.5 million cubic metres of plywood entered ports from January to April 2024

Last week, Wood Central reported that American plywood imports are now up more than 44% over the previous year, with Vietnam (responsible for 295,900 cubic metres) and Indonesia (194,900 cubic metres) amongst its top trading partners – two countries, which, like Malaysia, is heavily connected to the Chinese supply chains for plywood and lumber.

The world's largest forest products economy remains the world's most stable timber market - fuelled by a surge in single-family houses, which use three times more lumber than multi-family units. (Photo Credit: Maksym Yemelyanov / Alamy Stock Photo)
The world’s largest forest products economy is one of the world’s largest import markets for plywood and lumber – fuelled by a surge in single-family houses, which use three times more timber than multi-family units. (Photo Credit: Maksym Yemelyanov / Alamy Stock Photo)

The crackdown comes just six months before the planned rollout of the European Union’s new EUDR, which requires importers to assess supply chains for products at risk of deforestation and illegal logging.

Last month, a survey of the top 300 importers of timber products found that 18% of timber importers are completely unaware and, therefore, highly exposed to massive penalties from the new regulations – with 29% of importers lacking the supply chain expertise to enforce the rules.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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