An English clothing company and its CEO agreed Tuesday to pay more than $900,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged the firm split up orders so its customers, including many in Maine, could avoid paying U.S. customs fees.
Pure Collection Ltd. and Samantha Harrison, both of Harrogate, England, did not admit to violating the False Claims Act but agreed to pay $908,100 to end the litigation, according to the settlement agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Portland.
U.S. District Judge George Singal must sign off on the agreement before it becomes final.
Pure Collection is a knitwear retailer specializing in cashmere clothing, the complaint said. About half of its annual sales totaling “tens of millions of dollars” are generated in the U.S.
Goods imported into this country, including those sold by Pure Collection, are subject to a tariff of about 20 percent to be paid by the buyer, according to the complaint. There is an exception for merchandise valued at less than $200 but the splitting of a single order into separate shipments is prohibited.
The complaint, filed in May 2016 by a former employee described as a whistleblower, alleged that Pure Collection systematically split large orders into multiple packages, shipped them over several days, and falsified bills and invoices to make it appear that the packages were part of separate orders. The company also allegedly failed to prepare and affix the required paperwork to the shipment so its customers could avoid paying import fees.
The U.S. attorney’s office joined the lawsuit after former employee Andrew Patrick of Harrogate, England, filed the lawsuit, because Pure Collection had many customers in Maine who unknowingly benefited from the practice. As a result of reporting the company’s alleged illegal activity, Patrick will receive 18 percent, or $163,458, of the settlement, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney John Osborne.
“Mr. Patrick is the first British whistleblower to expose a UK company for evading U.S. import duties and only the second to receive a financial reward under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act,” his London attorney Mary Inman said Tuesday in a press release.
“As global business expands, European whistleblowers like Mr. Patrick play an increasingly vital role in alerting the U.S. government to fraud schemes that cross international borders.”
Patrick worked for Pure Collection from 2010 to 2014, first as a sales representative in its call center and then in its packaging department, the press release said. He brought his allegations to the attention of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2014, and later filed a whistleblower submission with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in 2015 before hiring Inman’s firm to represent him in federal court in Maine.
Pure Collection and Harrison cooperated throughout the investigation, the U.S. attorney’s office said Tuesday in a press release.
Attorneys for Pure Collection did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
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