OtterBox pays U.S. $4.3 million to settle whistleblower lawsuit

FORT COLLINS – Otter Products LLC, the company that makes OtterBox smartphone and tablet cases, has paid $4.3 million to the U.S. government to settle allegations that the company violated federal law by underpaying customs duties, U.S. Attorney John Walsh’s office said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the settlement in a statement Monday. The settlement stems from a whistleblower lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver by former OtterBox supply chain director Bonnie Jimenez in 2011. BizWest first reported the lawsuit last year.

Jimenez, of Brighton, will receive $830,000 in the settlement negotiated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Rocque.

An attorney for Jimenez did not immediately return a phone message.

Between 2006 and 2011, privately held OtterBox made many of its products in China, and then imported those products for distribution and retail sale. OtterBox was responsible for the submission of entry documents to U.S. Customs and for the payment of any customs duties owed on those imported products.

OtterBox, the No. 1-selling smartphone case in North America, saw rapid global growth during the period. The company denies that it knowingly underpaid customs duties and noted that the company settled the case without admitting liability.

“We work diligently to conduct our business responsibly,” OtterBox CEO Brian Thomas said in a statement.

The company previously self-reported two customs payment discrepancies, corrected those incidents, enhanced its internal controls and paid all duties that it owed, Thomas said.

“With resolution of this matter, we are pleased to continue to focus on manufacturing and innovating technology protection products that our customers know and trust, and remain dedicated to being a responsible corporate citizen,” he said.

OtterBox previously said it would vigorously contest the lawsuit and was confident it would see a “favorable outcome” in court. On Sept. 26, the company asked that the case be dismissed, saying that it already had notified the government of the shortcomings in its import-tax payments.

Federal authorities alleged that from Jan. 1, 2006 through Dec. 31, 2011, OtterBox knowingly omitted a portion of the value of OtterBox cases on imported product documents and made false statements in other document submitted to Customs and Border Protection.

As a result of OtterBox’s omissions and false statements, Walsh said OtterBox knowingly underpaid customs duties it owed and violated the False Claims Act.

The False Claims Act gives whistleblowers with knowledge of fraud against the United States the chance to present those allegations to the government by bringing a lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. If an investigation confirms those allegations, the whistleblower shares in a settlement.

“America’s economic security and prosperity are at the heart of U.S. trade law,” Walsh said in the statement. “Customs duties are a significant source of revenue for the United States, and this settlement demonstrates that the Department of Justice will zealously enforce their lawful collection.”

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