Palmetto Bay

Kobe’s cousin? Maybe. Cigar-importing tax cheat? Definitely.

Palmetto Bay resident Gitano “Tony” Bryant has claimed to be retired NBA star Kobe Bryant’s cousin. He’s also claimed to be an exculpatory witness in the Martha Moxley murder case involving the Kennedy family. Doubt surrounds Bryant on each count.

No doubt surrounds Bryant of twice being a federal tobacco excise tax cheat regarding imported cigars and cigarettes. He’s pleaded guilty to that in two cases, the most recent of which got him sentenced to seven years in federal prison Monday. He also must pay almost $9.4 million in restitution to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Four years of Byrant’s sentence come from the current case, one count of mail fraud. Three years got tacked on because he violated his probation from a case that ended in May 2015, which centered around Bryant failing to pony up the excise tax on cigarettes. That charge was engaging in business unlawfully.

This case involved cigars from the Dominican Republic and Bryant’s company, Havana 59. Havana 59 contracted with a licensed customs broker to handle the importing of large cigars from the Dominican. The broker figured out and paid the excise taxes based on the price Bryant paid for the cigars and the price sold to U.S. customers, as told to him by Bryant.

According to the facts in the guilty plea, Bryant altered invoices to appear he paid less for the cigars than he actually did and lied about how much he sold them for in the U.S. Bryant did this from August 2012 until October 2016.

That’s when the U.S. Attorney snipped the cigar salesman and lit him up with charges.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal