Caviar Distributor Pleads Guilty to $10 Million Fraud Scheme

A former caviar distributor who spent more than 23 years as a fugitive pleaded guilty to a fraud scheme where he illegally imported more than 100,000 pounds of Russian and Iranian caviar worth more than $10 million.

Isidoro Garbarino, 69, an Italian citizen who was president of the now-defunct Aquamar Gourmet Imports, pleaded guilty today in Manhattan federal court before U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy to illegally importing Iranian and Russian caviar between 1984 to 1987.

Prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said Garbarino was initially charged in 1987 and while free on bail fled the country in July 1989. He was arrested by Panamanian authorities in September and returned to the U.S., prosecutors said.

Documents in the case had elements of a time capsule. The typed indictment was signed by Rudolph Giuliani, the U.S. attorney at the time, who later became mayor of New York. Shipping manifests show the caviar was sold to now-defunct Pan American World Airways Inc. to be served to passengers in first class on international flights.

Garbarino pleaded guilty today to one count of falsely classifying imported goods and one count of making false statements in connection with the importation of the caviar. He also agreed to make $3 million restitution to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Bharara’s office said the money represents the duties, penalties and interest he owes for the unlawful shipments.

Garbarino, who remains in custody, faces as long as four years in prison when he is sentenced by Duffy on Jan. 7.

Marc Greenwald, a lawyer for Garbarino, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment about his client’s plea.

The case is U.S. v. Garbarino, 87-cr-00860, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Patricia Hurtado in New York at pathurtado@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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