The lure of a shiny new SUV — not a trunk full of cigarettes and booze, or blinding bling — has landed a Stittsville couple in trouble with customs officials.
“They didn’t declare that it was purchased in the States (or) have the appropriate paperwork to import the vehicle,” said Canada Border Services Agency spokesman Chris Kealey.
The pair has been charged, following two attempts, for allegedly smuggling a vehicle from the U.S.
Investigators at the Prescott port of entry charged Fortune Mendaza, 38, with evading payment of duties and smuggling under the Customs Act on May 24.
They allege Mendaza — driving a vehicle, the make of which can’t be disclosed — failed to declare a 2015 full-size SUV valued at more than $68,000 to avoid paying duties and taxes.
Officers discovered Mendaza’s husband, Emmanuel Tava, 41, had tried entering Canada without declaring the same vehicle at the Lansdowne/Thousand Islands border on April 29.
“They were counselled, like, this isn’t the way to do it. You have two choices: you can simply return to the U.S. and export the vehicle, or you can hold it, do the paperwork, and reimport it,” said Kealey.
The couple chose to leave the SUV at the port of entry, Kealey said, adding there’s also paperwork on the American side.
At that time, the vehicle was detained until the couple picked it up on May 24 for export back to the U.S.
“Instead of doing all of that paperwork, they simply made a second attempt at a different port of entry,” Kealey said.
Mendaza was arrested and the vehicle was seized.
Tava turned himself in on June 12, and was arrested by CBSA for evading payment of duties and attempting to smuggle.
The maximum penalty for the smuggling charge upon conviction under the Customs Act is a fine of not more than $500,000 or imprisonment for up to five years or both (by indictment).
When bringing a car purchased stateside into Canada, “there’s applicable taxes and possibly duties, but usually not duties because you’re importing a vehicle that is very often made in the U.S., or a NAFTA partner,” said Kealey.
Generally, smuggling vehicles isn’t common, Kealey said.
What customs officials do see, he said, is large purchases such as RV’s, boats, and other recreational vehicles being undervalued at the border, “so that they pay less taxes, as opposed to straight off trying to, you know, fudge it and smuggle it into the country.”
Mendaza and Tava were released on a promise to appear and are scheduled in Brockville court July 18.