A New York caviar distributor who evaded arrest for nearly a quarter century pleaded guilty Thursday to unlawfully importing more than 100,000 pounds of Russian and Iranian caviar in the 1980s.
Isidoro "Mario" Garbarino faces up to four years in prison at a Jan. 7 sentencing after admitting that he used schemes to avoid high taxes while importing caviar worth more than $10 million from 1984 to 1987. At the time, he was president of Aquamar Gourmet Imports Inc., a now-defunct company that supplied luxury food items to prominent gourmet stores as well as some of the world's largest airlines and cruise lines.
The plea was entered in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where he had been charged in a November 1987 indictment, only to flee the country in July 1989 while he was free on bail. As part of the plea, he has agreed to pay $3 million in restitution.
Garbarino, 69, was arrested by U.S. marshals after he was caught changing planes in Panama in September.
"Isidoro Garbarino ran his high-end importation business in a low-end way — cheating the government out of millions of dollars in tax revenues and defrauding his international clients who paid top dollar for exotic caviar they did not receive," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a release.
James T. Hayes Jr., agent-in-charge of the New York office of Homeland Security Investigations, said Garbarino cheated not only the U.S. government but also his clients around the world.
Authorities said Garbarino dodged U.S. taxes of up to 30 percent on his imports by significantly understating their weight and value. He said he cheated his customers worldwide by sometimes substituting cheaper American caviar for imported caviar before shipping the food to clients overseas.