Cell Phone Accessory Maker OtterBox Faces False Claims Act Liability

False Claims Act liability and customs

Companies are required to report not only the value of an item’s makeup, but the value of engineering and manufacturing needed to construct the product.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The False Claims Act covers a wide array of fraudulent activities. In a recent case against cell phone accessory maker OtterBox, the federal government has alleged its parent company Otter Products, LLC, shortchanged the government’s Internal Revenue Service with regard to taxes due on imports from China. Under the FCA, Otter Products is required to verify the value of its products with customs agents and pay a duty fee congruent with market value. According to allegations, OtterBox attempted to circumvent this requirement by undervaluing its smartphone cases imported from China, resulting in an FCA violation and an exposure to liability.

Details of Case Against Otter Products

Otter Products manufactures the wildly popular Otter Box, which fits snugly around smartphones and tablets in order to protect the products from destruction and damage if dropped. The average OtterBox for an iPhone, for instance, retails between $50 and $60 and is far more costly than a typical iPhone or smartphone cover.

In 2011, a former customs compliance officer of Otter Products filed a whistleblower complaint against the company in federal court after realizing the company was routinely undervaluing its OtterBoxes and underpaying federal fees and taxes. More specifically, Otter Products is alleged to have omitted the value of the engineering and tooling of the products, opting instead to report only the value of the materials from which the smartphone case was constructed.

According to recent court filings, Otter Products is seeking additional time to try to settle the whistleblower lawsuit and avoid any further publicity on the matter. It first attempted, however, to have the case dismissed under the theory that the whistleblower did not have “original” information of fraud since Otter Products had already self-reported to the government that it underpaid import taxes. Under the FCA rules, the government must approve any whistleblower settlement between a corporation and a private party, even if the government has not intervened in the matter.

The FCA and Customs Tax

The FCA is used quite frequently in the context of customs taxation and unpaid duties. For instance, in 2012, the U.S. government settled with CMAI industries for $6.3 million after allegations surfaced that it underreported the value of its auto parts arriving from China. Another case involving imported chemicals resulted in an assessment of $45 million in damages and fines after an international corporation failed to pay anti-dumping taxes. Although not as widely-publicized, the FCA has proven historically useful in the fight against fraud at the border.

Contact a Whistleblower Attorney Today

Perhaps you do not have original information relating to underpayment of customs taxes – few people do! However, the FCA is useful in the fight against fraud in other formats, notably healthcare and defense contracting. If you are aware of possible fraudulent activity at your place of employment or medical care provider, we encourage you to contact a whistleblower attorney right away. Cases settled under the FCA can result in a 30 percent reward for the plaintiff, and usually help protect all taxpayers from misuse of government money.

By | 2014-02-17T22:02:18+00:00 February 17th, 2014|IRS Whistleblower|