WASHINGTON — Atlas Wood Products, Inc. and owner/president Francisco Tovar Ramirez have pleaded guilty and been sentenced in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of California to criminal violations related to the creation of counterfeit industry-issued certificates in violation of the Plant Protection Act.
As owner and president, Ramirez supervised and had control over the manufacture, recycling and repair of wood packaging materials (WPM), including wooden pallets and was responsible for ensuring compliance with all local, state and federal laws and regulations. Ramirez knowingly marked and caused WPM to be marked with the counterfeit stamps “US -4679 HT” and “US 163523,” even though the WPM had not been heat treated. Ramirez also caused the wooden pallets bearing the counterfeit stamps to be sold to multiple other companies that used the WPM to transport products internationally. The purchasing companies ordered and were led to believe by Atlas Wood Products that they were purchasing WPM that had received phytosanitary treatment according to federal and international standards, as required by the Plant Protection Act. The criminal conduct took place from June 2012 through September 2013.
As part of a plea agreement, Atlas Wood Products pled guilty to one felony count of making a false statement, and Ramirez pled guilty individually to one misdemeanor count of falsifying a document in violation of the Act. Atlas Wood Products was assessed a $50,000 penalty, and sentenced to serve probation for a term of five years. Ramirez was also assessed a $50,000 penalty, and sentenced to five years’ probation.
Pursuant to the Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires the phytosanitary treatment (usually heat treatment) of WPM used in international commerce. The requirement is to prevent plant pests and diseases from entering the United States and other countries in wood packaging materials. Pursuant to the Act, in September 2005, USDA began requiring heat treatment of WPM that is transported in international commerce. WPM that carry products transported within the United States are not required to be heat treated.
The investigation was conducted by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).