Man avoids jail time in $10 million caviar smuggling caper

NEW YORK Mon Jan 7, 2013 2:42pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man who evaded authorities for 23 years on charges he unlawfully imported more than $10 million worth of caviar into the United States was spared jail time at his sentencing on Monday.

Instead, a judge in U.S. District Court in Manhattan imposed a punishment of time already served on Isidoro "Mario" Garbarino, 69, who has been in custody since September 10.

An Italian national, Garbarino was also fined $10,000 and will likely be deported to Italy.

Garbarino was indicted in 1987. But while free on bail he fled to Italy in 1989 and remained a fugitive, mainly in South America, until he was captured in September 2012 by U.S. marshals at an airport in Panama.

In November, Garbarino, who owns Aquamar Gourmet Imports Inc., pleaded guilty to falsely classifying imported goods and making false statements and agreed to pay $3 million in restitution.

The former caviar importer was charged with smuggling more than 100,000 pounds of Russian and Iranian caviar into the United States between 1984 and 1987, in part to avoid tariffs. His company supplied the fish roe to gourmet stores such as Zabar's in New York as well as major air and cruise lines, prosecutors said.

At his sentencing before U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy, Garbarino fought back tears as he apologized.

"I'm sorry," said Garbarino. "There are no words in the vocabulary for me."

(Reporting By Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Martha Graybow and Nick Zieminski)

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