California Man Caught Smuggling R-22 Refrigerant

Well folks I can’t say that I am surprised by this news. For some people out there the opportunity for immense profit outweighs all things, including ethics. I’ve seen this before in other countries. In fact three years ago I wrote an article on how Russia found twenty tons of R-22 refrigerant on the dock at their customs. In every instance that I have seen this I have found two consistencies. The first is that these R-22 refrigerants are disguised as R-134a cylinders. The second is that these smuggled cylinders always end up coming from China. I’m not saying Chinese refrigerant is bad product by any means, but I will say that there are definitely some bad apples over there who do not care about the law, ethics, or the environment.

What makes this latest case so interesting is that it happened here in America. An Orange County man, Mahmoud Alkabbani, pleaded guilty to federal charges of illegally importing and selling R-22 refrigerant. While importing R-22 isn’t illegal it is highly regulated and only so much per year can be manufactured or imported. Most of you already know why this refrigerant is regulated, so I won’t get into it. Suffice to say, it damages the Ozone layer and it began to phase down back in 2010. Ever since that date the price on R-22 has risen and risen.

To get around these regulations Mahmoud had the bright idea of disguising the R-22 as R-134a. On top of that he also had a fraudulent brand trademark of ‘Glacier,’ added to the cylinders. After an agreement was made with a Chinese refrigerant company back in 2013 Mahmoud then purchased four-thousand cylinders of disguised R-22. Once he had the product in hand Mahmoud began selling it online on channels such as E-Bay and Amazon as well as other avenues. He was selling these cylinders at ten times the value of what he had purchased, which is what I expected. Lots of profit to be made.

In that same year, 2013, Mahmoud was approached by an undercover government agent looking to purchase R-22. They negotiated a deal to sell four cylinders to the agent at three-hundred and thirty dollars a cylinder. During the meeting and exchanging of product Mahmoud stated that he could get as much R-22 as the buyer/agent needed. I hate to interrupt the story here but I am still slightly amazed that we have undercover government agents looking for fraudulent refrigerant. Obviously, it is necessary, but I just find myself shaking my head that the government has to do this.

In the summer of 2017 Mahmoud was arrested on returning to the country. (Most likely he was on his way back from another China visit.) Upon arrest he faced a nine count indictment that included conspiracy, five counts of passing fraudulent paperwork through customs, one count of making false statements, smuggling, and violating the Clean Air Act. Last week Mahmoud pleaded guilty. He will be sentenced on June 13th but he faces up to ten years in prison.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies do not mess around when it comes to the Clean Air Act and Refrigerant Sales Restrictions. I say this but there are so many people flagrantly breaking the law by selling products on Craigslist or E-Bay without asking for any type of 608/609 licensing requirement. There are even companies out there marketing their ‘R-22 replacement refrigerant,’ as safe and SNAP approved.

I don’t care if it’s selling refrigerant without obtaining a license, selling non-approved refrigerants, or smuggling in R-22. The point is that if the government finds out, which they most likely will, then these people are going to soon realize that a short term profit is not going to outweigh a hefty fine or even jail time from the Federal Government.