CIGAR SMUGGLER: Is a Catalina 470 Worth 33 Boxes of Stogies?

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Cuban Cohibas

That’s the question cruiser Jeff Southworth has no doubt been asking himself ever since January, when local police and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents popped him in Puerto Rican waters and found 33 boxes of putatively Cuban Cohiba and Romeo y Julieta cigars on board his boat Janice Ann. Southworth claimed his cigars were actually cheap Dominican knock-offs, but CBP went ahead and seized both the cigars and his boat anyway.

One does have to wonder about the government’s sense of perspective. Evidently they’ve been telling Southworth since January 3 that one of their cigar experts will be able to determine where his cigars came from, but here we are over four months later and said examination has yet to take place. They’ve also valued his boat at $90K, which is a puzzler. Go and search Yachtworld, and you’ll see the current lowest asking price for a used Catalina 470 of the same vintage as Janice Ann (1999) is $158K. Most are going for around $200K.

Catalina 470

Southworth’s Catalina at rest. Is it a boat, or an instrument of criminality?

Even if Southworth’s cigars are knock-offs, the government might still be entitled to keep the boat, as smuggling counterfeit goods into U.S. territory is apparently also grounds for property forfeiture. What’s interesting about that angle is that both Cohiba and Romeo y Julieta, as any cigar smoker knows, are brands existing in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The legal Dominican brands enjoy trademark protection in the U.S., but what about the illegal Cuban brands? Southworth wasn’t carrying counterfeit Dominican cigars, he claims he was carrying counterfeit Cuban cigars that were manufactured in the DR. Can the government legally prosecute someone for a violating a trademark they don’t legally recognize?

Dominican Cohibas

Dominican Cohibas. The U.S.-based General Cigar Company, which produces these babies, in fact ripped the name off from the Cubans in the first place. The company that originally made Romeo y Julietas in Cuba, on the other hand, shifted production to the DR after the Cuban revolution. The Cuban government ripped the name off from them (i.e., nationalized it) and now puts it on cigars they produce

Lawyers could make a bundle dancing around that question for a while, but they probably won’t get the chance. CBP recently offered to give back the boat so long as Southworth signs a release and promises not to come after them for attorney’s fees or damages. Not exactly fair (assuming the cigars are in fact fake Cubans), but he’d be a fool not to go for it. Fighting with the government on its own turf is generally a bad idea, especially when they’re already holding the key to your boat.

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5 Responses
  1. The Mow

    Hey there, Chaz Beau,
    Quite a humorous article. Where did you find out about this poor fella’s problem with the government? Hope he gets his
    boat back, but the ceegars were not good for him anyway.
    Might as well let them go without a fight. Thanks for sharing.
    Love from the Mow. . . . . . . . .

  2. Windtalker

    Yet another stark example of the potentially oppressive power of government when unchecked. They know they did wrong, so you must sign away your rights to sue to get back your property- illegally siezed in the first place. At least, our government still seems to know some bounds- better late than never- even after months, he will get his boat back. I wonder if she’s in the same shipshape state she likely was when taken.

  3. Richard

    I believe if you investigate further you will discover that during the Bush years the US government declared it had the “right” to seize any vessel anywhere on the high seas that it suspected might be smuggling goods or people from or to Cuba. The only criteria is that it be capable of making the voyage between the two countries. What is the probability that the Obama administration has voluntarily surrendered its power on this or any other issue?

  4. Richard

    The fundamental principal on any US customs issue is that the suspect party is guilty until proven innocent. Once innocence is proven they still have to pay a fine. I learned this 20 years ago when returning from Mexico. The owner of the vehicle I was traveling with underestimated the amount of customs duty due by $32. There were no drugs involved. US customs seized the vehicle and everything in it including my cameras, gave us back our wallets and the clothes on our backs, pointed north across a rocky field and said “welcome back to the USA.”

  5. Windtalker

    I believe the Bush Admin had created a Coast Guard regulation with language which stated the government could seize your boat if they believed you were thinking of using it to ‘travel to Cuba. This unbelievably big brother over reach had the boating community up in arms ( hands up?) as well as the human rights and legal community. Although i could find no record of it on the web, i would think/ hope/ consider that this outrageous ‘law’s’ wording has been since changed. And if it hasn’t….

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