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Reports of lawsuit overpayments prompt federal audit

A Tarpon Springs shrimper, expecting $210,000, gets $2.1-million. She returns the check, alerting officials to possible other oversized payments.

Published January 1, 2007


MOBILE, Ala. - A federal audit is planned for Gulf Coast shrimpers and seafood processing houses after reports of overpayments on their shares in an imported shrimp lawsuit settlement.

Shrimp boat owner Colleen Brown of Tarpon Springs received a tariff payment check in December from the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection for $2.1-million when she expected $210,000, according to customs records.

Shocked at the payment mistake, she returned the check.

Brown was one of two Tarpon Springs business owners overpaid a total of more than $3-million by the federal government, said John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, the eight-state domestic shrimp industry coalition that won the tariffs two years ago through a federal lawsuit against shrimp exporters in six countries.

On her application for payment, Brown put a decimal in the wrong place.

"And no one would have caught the mistake if she hadn't been honest and sent it back," Williams told the Press-Register of Mobile.

Williams and the alliance said Customs and the Border Protection simply didn't audit the hundreds of applications sent by shrimpers in 2005, seeking a cut of the more than $20-million collected from the shrimp tariffs.

In January 2005, U.S. shrimpers, whose harvest is worth about $560-million a year, won a lawsuit seeking tariffs on imports from China, India, Ecuador, Thailand, Vietnam and Brazil. Under the tariff law known as the Byrd Amendment, U.S. shrimpers injured by illegal pricing practices of those countries stand to receive payments from the tariffs.

Since the lawsuit was filed, 1,211 applicants, including companies and individuals, requested $298-million in Byrd Amendment payouts. The average request was $246,423, according to customs documents. That means the average check was for $18,481, and the total amount sent to the industry was about $22-million, according to the documents.

At the alliance's urging, customs officials have agreed to audit every claim and hope to begin recouping any overpaid funds from their recipients sometime after January, Williams said.




[Last modified January 1, 2007, 01:46:09]

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