WASHINGTON — On Feb. 29, 2016, U.S. Customs officers at the Port of Jacksonville in Florida detained a container arriving from the Middle East on suspicion that the more than 10,000 Nissan auto parts inside were counterfeit. The shipment belonged to AMG Trade & Distribution, a mom-and-pop importer in Pompano Beach, Fla.
The 15-month ordeal that followed nearly put AMG out of business and led to stress-related health problems for co-owners Anthony Bachan and Michael Pockhai.
Now the company is taking Nissan North America to court for telling U.S. Customs and Border Protection that the goods were fake.
"I went through hell," Bachan said. With no inventory to sell, AMG lost customers and incurred big legal bills.
The case sheds light on the murky world of gray-market goods — items that are technically legal but considered unfair by a manufacturer — and automakers' efforts to stop their dealerships from straying outside official distribution channels for cheaper parts.
The transactions at issue typically involve genuine, brand-name products from a reseller overseas instead of directly from the manufacturer. Merchandise often can be obtained at a substantial discount from a company's authorized distribution channel.
Sometimes, the goods are genuine but pirated, meaning a contract manufacturer produces more than its customer ordered and funnels the excess through back channels.