A 52-year-old New York man faces up to 20 years in a federal prison after admitting that he lied about where he obtained goods that he sold to the United States government. Federal prosecutors say the man obtained Chinese-made items including backpacks, cinch bags, duffle bags and athletic shoes and then told government officials that the products were manufactured in America. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York announced on March 10 that the man has chosen to avoid a trial by pleading guilty to wire fraud.

The Rensselaer resident was charged for violating the provisions of the Trade Agreements Act and the Buy American Act. These laws were passed to ensure that federal agencies and government departments purchase supplies that were manufactured or transformed substantially in the United States. Congress included exceptions for certain designated countries, but China is not one of them. U.S. attorneys say that the man concealed the provenance of his products with an elaborate series of written and verbal statements.

The man’s activities were investigated by agencies including the General Services Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Command. In addition to spending time behind bars, the man’s plea agreement requires him to pay the U.S. government more than $700,000 in restitution. He also faces up to three years of supervised release following his custodial sentence.

This case reveals how severe the penalties for violating federal white-collar crime laws can be. However, most defendants choose to cooperate with U.S. attorneys in return for more lenient sentences. Criminal defense attorneys with experience in this area may advise their clients to consider plea offers when the evidence against them is overwhelming and their chances of being acquitted in court are not good. However, attorneys could argue vigorously in front of a jury when prosecutors have less than convincing cases or their clients maintain their innocence.