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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
OK, I tried to move on from this, but it seems Aquatic Magic will not let me.

I came to them in good faith - I bought 3 items on 3 auctions, a drop checker and 2 plants.

I admit my naivete in not knowing anything about the "phytosanitary certificate" to import plants. Aquatic Magic makes no mention of this anywhere on their listings; I honestly thought the reason their plants were priced as they are, and shipping costs were as they were, was because they had the economies of scale and this is what it would cost.

I knew nothing about the need for any certificate until my items were seized and destroyed by the U.S. Customs in our port, and I received a form from them indicating I am now flagged as an illegal importer, liable for criminal prosecution.

I contacted Aquatic Magic. I told them I wasn't happy this wasn't disclosed on their listings, and wasn't happy to now be under criminal culpability when I came to them in good faith. I asked for a refund, and was willing to move on.

They refunded my money .... and promptly opened an unpaid item dispute on E-Bay!

Please note the timeline:



Refund, then a response, which indicated:

"Hi,

We are very sorry about the plants. The refund has been issued.

The chances of plants passing through custom are very high and they
will check randomly. Most of our customers get them successfully.
Thanks a lot for the purchase and have a nice day!

Regards,

&&&&&&&"

(The person's name may be a pseudonym, but in case not, I didn't want to betray her privacy)

Then a new invoice and an unpaid item dispute on Ebay:



So, they willingly smuggle goods, and jeopardize buyers who don't know any better by not including the needed information on their listings, refund or attempt to reship the good illegally, and, apparently, open unpaid item disputes on e-bay, after refunding.

I came to them because of their reputation on E-Bay - but am beyond outraged at this point. I do not like to stir waters, but I also felt others should be warned about this behavior, to avoid what I am now going to have to deal with.

Edit: This is flat out wrong. I have had further contact with the USDA, and when I explained this to them, they said that while they won't pursue prosecution, as this is my "first offense," I am on their database and anytime I leave the country, I will likely be flagged for screening on coming back in. Fantastic. Very grateful.
 

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I'd be interested to hear what the company has to say on this...
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
They said it was all a misunderstanding - the unpaid item claim and invoice after the fact of their refunding the money.

I'm holding my tongue. The ebay issue is but one of two. The bigger issue is that my family is now marked in this way with the U.S. Federal government, such that anytime I go abroad and come back, I am subject to search and possible other actions.

Again, I'm holding my tongue, and the company's saying "it was all a misunderstanding" only confirmed much of my earlier impressions.

They are smuggling. And customers are likely going to end up with the short end of the legal stick. This is my honest impression.
 

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Wow, I bought plants from them over 2 weeks ago. Still haven't gotten them. I hope they aren't seized by customs. It sucks that our country blames us rather than the sellers or even ebay for not regulating better. Hope your problems get solved, I would constantly nag at customs to get you off that b.s. "list".
 

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Buyers and sellers need to be aware of customs laws. Here is a response I got from APHIS in regards to a question I had asked several weeks ago concerning a similar matter:

"The relevant law is now the Plant Protection Act, which superseded most of the Federal Noxious Weed Act in 2000. The list of federal noxious weeds was out of date as well. The official list is on the APHIS website at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/weeds/index.shtml

...with regard to regulating the sell/trade of restricted plants between hobbyists. No one is required by the Plant Protection Act, our authority, to post the federal noxious weed list. I can't speak for the States, but I doubt that any State Law has such provisions either. It is the responsibility of the buyer/seller/trader to know the regulations affecting the goods they sell/trade... ...the import and interstate movement restrictions for parasitic plants, noxious weeds, and other pests regulated by APHIS-Plant Protection and Quarantine.

Regards,

Polly P. Lehtonen, Senior Import Specialist
USDA, APHIS, PPQ
Plant Health Programs
Permits, Registrations, Imports & Manuals (PRIM)
Commodity Import Analysis & Operation (CIAO)
4700 River Road Unit 133, Room 4C-01.27
Riverdale, MD 20737-1236
Tel. (301) 734-4394
Fax. (301) 734-4300 "

This deals more with restricted materials, but it's the same general idea for getting goods shipped over that have the potential to have parasites attached. The phytosanitary certificate is required, and the only way around it is to mark the package as something else, which looks suspicious to customs agents, and can result in a seizure of you goods.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Dave, totally agree, in a legal sense - which is why I said my naivete is no excuse: Ignorance of the law is not a pass.

That said, I bought in good faith, from a company that willfully practices illegal smuggling. They ship cheaply - but I (wrongly) didn't think anything other than that it's a huge company, with the economies of scale to do so - much like volume discounts on bulk shipments. I've also never bought plants internationally before, and didn't know anything about the laws involved, and wouldn't - a very, very newbie mistake to make, and I own it fully; completely my mistake, but a mistake as it would be to, say, park on a city street in a given city that doesn't have posted parking signs, but rather "known" city ordinances describing the relevant laws. (Lousy example, I know, but I hope it serves).

Now, against this, we have a company that willfully says zero about the required certificates on their listings, and dupe many, many people, apparently - and whereas before, I don't think much was done about it, it's my impression, based on my example alone, that U.S. Customs/Border/Homeland Security is taking this all very seriously, and domestic customers are the ones who are going to be hurt by this, not an unreachable website outside our jurisdiction.

So, they willfully both burn suppliers who do abide by the laws (who have to pay the appropriate fees - they are in essence "dumping" the legal market), and they willfully avoid making any mention on their sites of the required certificates, or the extra cost involved. As I said, intrinsic to an informed decision is, or should be, a transparent appraisal of any and all risks and rewards of a given purchase.

Top that with this person's bad-faith reportage of me as an "unpaid buyer," after the fact of their refunding me, and the picture couldn't be any clearer, at least to me.

I should mention that the threshold goes way, way down, before the eyes of jurisprudence, if someone willfully engages in illegal smuggling. That bar of willful culpability is being lowered, if my instincts, based on what experience I have had working within the law, are right. Buyer, truly, beware. I'm now "marked," but I hope others are forewarned.

Buyers and sellers need to be aware of customs laws. Here is a response I got from APHIS in regards to a question I had asked several weeks ago concerning a similar matter:

"The relevant law is now the Plant Protection Act, which superseded most of the Federal Noxious Weed Act in 2000. The list of federal noxious weeds was out of date as well. The official list is on the APHIS website at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/weeds/index.shtml

...with regard to regulating the sell/trade of restricted plants between hobbyists. No one is required by the Plant Protection Act, our authority, to post the federal noxious weed list. I can't speak for the States, but I doubt that any State Law has such provisions either. It is the responsibility of the buyer/seller/trader to know the regulations affecting the goods they sell/trade... ...the import and interstate movement restrictions for parasitic plants, noxious weeds, and other pests regulated by APHIS-Plant Protection and Quarantine.

Regards,

Polly P. Lehtonen, Senior Import Specialist
USDA, APHIS, PPQ
Plant Health Programs
Permits, Registrations, Imports & Manuals (PRIM)
Commodity Import Analysis & Operation (CIAO)
4700 River Road Unit 133, Room 4C-01.27
Riverdale, MD 20737-1236
Tel. (301) 734-4394
Fax. (301) 734-4300 "

This deals more with restricted materials, but it's the same general idea for getting goods shipped over that have the potential to have parasites attached. The phytosanitary certificate is required, and the only way around it is to mark the package as something else, which looks suspicious to customs agents, and can result in a seizure of you goods.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The issue, from all I can tell, isn't banned plants, but shipping them without proper certificates, and willfully attempting to illegally bypass inspections. I understand the pressure not to go this way - the certificates are expensive. But to not have the issue on their site, and to admit they are aware it is illegal - "most get through, they just randomly check" - means they are willfully smuggling, and buyers buying from them are subject to anything from being marked, as I now am, or worse - as the discussion of penalties and prison time above allude to.

In my case, I bought two plants - C. beckettii, and some flame moss, ignorant of all of this. Both are not banned plants, they are innocuous.

It should be interesting, it seems to me, that aquatic magic has been here several times, and hasn't offered an explanation of any kind. I'm aware there isn't one to be offered, because it's obvious - but I would respectfully recommend to anyone else considering purchasing from them to keep everything discussed here in mind.

Paul sorry for your troubles.

Are the plants in question actually on a banned list? It sounds like the plant protection Act can simply ban all plants from import.
 

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So sorry Paul, I have been often asked by persons overseas to purchase a live aquatic product and it would have been a wonderful thing for The Cause to be able to offer these to other hobbyist. However , I had to decline these offers simply because of what happened to you. It is not worth the legal problems that can occur from one of these purchases. You must have the proper documentation to bring these type of goods into the US and this documentation can be quite expense and even with the proper paper work, customs can and does seize shipments.
wilma
 

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i notice when i buy my moss from them, it says toy on it. rather than aquatic plants. this is straight out illegal and totally sucks if you were prosecuted. good thing they decided not to.
 

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This is disturbing. I read the APC disclaimer, but why has APC allowed them to be a sponsor for apparently a long period of time when they engage in illegal activity?
 

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APC is working to remedy that. The issue will be solved one way or another soon.
 

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That sucks. There are absolutely no regulations in thier country against this. They cannot look up religious or philosophical websites, but they can sell anything that they want online without repercussions. You could not even file a civil claim against them! They don't have a civil claims court. This definitely sucks. I wanted to buy some products from them. I didn't and won't even though the products were not live goods. I'd keep bugging customs until they "cleaned your record" and let it go.
 

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why has APC allowed them to be a sponsor for apparently a long period of time when they engage in illegal activity?
As soon as it came to our attention that this company might not be compliant with U.S. laws, an announcement was made.

There are other Asian-based Internet plant sales companies that ship large packages to a receiving agent here in the states with the proper documentation. Those packages are then broken down into individual orders and re-shipped. Until we have evidence on way or the other, we're simply urging caution.

Believe me, if we find out that this particular company is engaging in illegal activity that could harm our members they'll be dropped immediately.
 

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There are some overseas companies that do offer Phytosanitary Certificates; if I remember correctly, AquaticMagic had offered them when I had purchased from them several years ago, so I wonder what happened between then and now?

The ulimate solution is for either hobbyists or suppliers to pay attention to those plants in demand here in The States and (assuming they are legal to keep by the hobbyist) bypass customs all together. A few more burns on customers here and on other sites will inevitably lead to this logical conclusion.

It is too bad that some overseas companies have tried to overcome this issue illegally for short-term gains as opposed to doing the right thing and find a long-lasting, permenant, and legal solution for their customers. Opportunity was wasted, and all it will take is one nursery to feel the pulse of the hobbyists and start supplying some of these hard to find species for the same cost, and everyone will switch and buy from that supplier.

I stopped buying from overseas suppliers because everything was coming in dead after two or three weeks of waiting. I have found much better and rarer species from fellow hobbyists here, from friends locally, or (at times) on Aquabid from a trader within the US. I do wish to point out that when my packages of plants from overseas finally arrived, there was no phytosanitary certificate and the envelopes were stamped "toy" as well. It was a total waste, and out of disgust I never bought from an overseas supplier again. I did have the good fortune of not having anything confiscated by US Customs, and I am very sorry to see these events unfolding. Unfortunately, this has been one of many similar stories that I have seen many, many times here on APC regarding overseas based suppliers.

I hope that "buyer beware" will not be tolerated here regarding some of these companies that too often attempt to bypass federal law and get the buyer into trouble as the supplier is allowed off the hook. If this happened a few times per year, I could understand to a point. But these posts are showing up with great frequency and regularity and I believe that it is time to start questioning the point/purpose of allowing these suppliers to continue to peddle their wares here if we in The States are going to be subjected to their illegal means of shipment to bypass Customs while the naive hobbyist faces potential prosecution. ;)

Have a nice day.
 

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I agree with DonaldmBoyer, we as hobbyists have the opportunity to change these practices by overseas vendors by only purchasing from reliable, responsible, overseas vendors that provide the required government documentation. I do not want to be responsible for bringing into the United States the next Japanese beetle, purple loosestrife, or zebra mussel.

I have purchased "Dry Goods" from this vendor and been very satisfied. Equipment that was damaged and/or defective equipment was replaced with no hassles. That said, a responsible vendor should be responsible in all areas, not just when it is expedient.
 

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Wow, I never thought of any of this type of circumstance when browsing their websites. Had I known this before I probably would not have made any purchases(dry goods) with the company just out of moral standing. I feel for anyone caught in that snare of a mess.
 

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As soon as it came to our attention that this company might not be compliant with U.S. laws, an announcement was made.
Really? No offense, but in less than ten minutes searching I found three other conversations here going back three years, and I was just looking for info on this company
 
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