Caviar importer gets 4 months in jail

A one-time caviar importer who fled the United States in 1989 after being charged in a multimillion-dollar customs rip-off was let off with less than 4 months in jail at his sentencing in federal court in Manhattan Monday.

Isidoro Garborino, 69, who in his heyday was a prominent purveyor of high-end caviar to airlines and outlets like Zabar's, was sentenced to time served. He had been in jail since being nabbed Sept. 10 in Panama, and faces immediate deportation to his native Italy.

Garborino was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy after tearfully saying that he had betrayed the country that gave him an opportunity to make good by letting him immigrate in 1955, broke promises to his mother and shamed his family.

"I made a terrible mistake," said Garborino, who had been charged with lying about the amount of caviar he imported and substituting cheap caviar for higher-grade eggs in sales to airlines. Prosecutors said he owed $3 million in unpaid duties and penalties.

"The case is old, and more important, the defendant is old," said Duffy, 79. "I know what old means, perhaps more than anyone else in the courtroom."

Duffy said it was a "victimless crime," arguing that the government and airlines weren't compelling victims. He said Garborino's real punishment would be the "shame" he brought on himself and his family.

"For the rest of his life he will have to face up to the fact that if he has grandchildren they will say, 'My grandfather the felon,' " Duffy said.

Garborino was not charged with jumping bail by the government. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has not explained why.

He faced a maximum of 4 years in jail. In addition to time served since his capture, Duffy also ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine. His lawyer, Marc Greenwald, said Garborino had satisfied the government's claim for the $3 million.

"Mr. Garborino is very pleased with the sentence," Greenwald said. "He regrets what he did, and he is happy to have this behind him."

After his deportation to Italy, Greenwald said, Garborino will likely resume residing in the Dominican Republic, where he said he has started a charity to help poor children, and in Argentina, where he is receiving medical treatment.

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