The government sometimes imposes sanctions on certain imports for the sake of fair competition on behalf of domestic producers, among other reasons. When companies choose to ignore those sanctions, they could find themselves held accountable, not only by the government, but also by the domestic producers who were harmed by the illegal imports.
The “Honeygate” investigation, led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is one such case. The investigation resulted in a series of seizures of illegally imported honey, criminal charges, and massive fines. The United States District of Illinois filed criminal charges against two of the country’s largest industrial honey suppliers, Groeb Farms, Inc. and Honey Solutions. The two companies entered into Deferred Prosecution Agreements with the government and confessed to knowingly facilitating the importation, purchase, and sale of the mislabeled Chinese honey in order to avoid the U.S.-imposed antidumping duties.
The United States government had imposed antidumping duties on Chinese honey because they found that the honey was sold at such a low price as to interfere with the sale of domestically-produced honey.
To avoid the United States’s antidumping duties, the honey distributors engaged in a massive conspiracy involving transshipping Chinese honey through other countries, disguising the honey’s origin, and then illegally importing the Chinese honey into the United States in order to avoid paying the U.S. dumping duties.
Three domestic honey producers, Adee Honey Farms, Bill Rhodes Honey Company, LLC, and Hackenberg Apiaries, have now filed a class action complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. In addition to the three named plaintiffs, the class action asserts claims on behalf of a nationwide class consisting of all individuals and entities “with commercial beekeeping operations (300 or more hives) that produced and sold honey in the United States during the period from 2001 to the present.”
The lawsuit is building on the Honeygate investigation in its attempt to obtain compensation for the financial losses suffered by the domestic honey producers as a result of Groeb’s and Honey Solutions’s conduct. The class-action alleges that, by intentionally participating in the purchase, packaging, distributing, and sale of the Chinese honey, the two companies deceived consumers and purchasers.
The lawsuit alleges that consumers were deceived because the Chinese honey has allegedly been found to be “heavily adulterated, containing inexpensive sweeteners and sometimes blended with high fructose corn syrup and other additives, despite the fact that importers, in league with [Groeb and Honey Solutions], represent that it is pure honey.”
James J. Pizzirusso one of the attorneys representing the domestic honey producers, states that the domestic honey industry, which is “critically important to agriculture, has suffered losses at the hands of these fraudulent suppliers.”
Adam J. Levitt, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said “It is important that American beekeepers and honey producers get to play on a level playing field”.