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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 56

Efforts to Prevent Presentation of False Invoices After 1861

Efforts to Prevent Presentation of False Invoices After 1861.

After 1857, the first and most important enactment to secure the presentation of truthful invoices, and to punish those who presented false invoices, was that of March 3d, 1863 (Chapter LXXVI), which required all invoices to be made in triplicate. It greatly broadened the character of the offence for the commission of which confiscation was denounced, by declaring that if any owner, consignee, or agent of any merchandise shall knowingly make or attempt to make, an entry by means of a false invoice, or a false certificate of a consular officer, or by means of any false document or paper, or by any false or fraudulent practice or appliance whatsoever, said merchandise, or its value, shall be forfeited. There was allowed to the District Attorneys two per cent, upon all moneys realized by any forfeiture suit conducted by them. Judges of the Federal District Courts were authorized to issue warrants directed to the Collector of the port empowering him, or his agents, to seize the merchant's books or papers relating to revenue frauds, and carry them away to be inspected, to which last legislation, and its amendments in 1866 and 1867, I have referred at length in my Annual Report, (p. LII.) It is to be borne in mind, that at the time of this enactment in 1863, all persons were, under the law of 1799, stimulated by the prospect of realizing one-fourth of the net proceeds of the forfeiture, to give the Government information of contemplated, or perpetrated, frauds upon the customs revenue, and that each of the three chief officers of the customs at each port was encouraged to make seizures by a share of the result, if the prosecution resulted favorably to the United States. Although the legislation of 1863 was severe, and although it broke down ten years later by its own weight, yet it probably operated in fact to deter merchants from the presentation of false invoices, and in enabling the Executive to more thoroughly execute the tariff laws during the period of the Civil War, than would have been possible without such deterrent legislation. It may be explained, at that critical period in the history of the country, by much the same reasons as the page XXI forced recruitment of soldiers, the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus in certain places, and other restrictions upon the individual liberty of the citizen, or of an alien sojourning in the country, were defended.

1874.—In 1874 all the provisions of law under which moieties of any fines, penalties or forfeitures under the customs-revenue laws, or any share therein, or any commission thereon were paid to informers, or officers of the customs, were repealed. All power to make Executive inquisition into the books or papers of importers was taken away, and the power of Courts and juries to inflict confiscation was greatly abridged.. The previous law had forfeited all the merchandise on an invoice if any item thereof was made with a deliberate intent to defraud the revenue, but the legislation of 1874 restricted confiscation to the package containing the article to which the fraud related. But, apart from those things, the law of 1874 was comprehensive by declaring that any person who should" with intent to defraud the revenue make, or attempt to make, an entry of imported merchandise, by means of any fraudulent or false invoice, affidavit, letter or paper, or by means of any false statement, written or verbal," or "who shall be guilty of any wilful act of omission, by means whereof the United States shall be deprived of the legal duties, or of any portion thereof, accruing upon the merchandise or any portion thereof embraced or referred to in such invoice, affidavit, letter, paper or statement, or affected by such act of omission, shall, for each offence be fined in any sum not exceeding five thousand dollars nor less than fifty dollars, or be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, or both, and in addition to such fine,such merchandise shall he forfeited."