MIAMI – MAY 14, 2020 – Wicker Smith O’Hara McCoy & Ford, P.A.’s Brandon Hechtman represented Fogo Charcoal in a claim alleging trafficked property confiscated by Cuba’s communist government under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. A Florida federal judge dismissed the claim concluding the Plaintiff failed to provide proof of property ownership obtained through inheritance before the law’s March 12, 1996 passage, meaning a Helms-Burton Act lawsuit filing must prove property ownership by that date.
The case was previously amended after it was tossed in March, after findings showed the Plaintiff was unable to prove property ownership or that the Defendant knowingly and intentionally marketed the charcoal from a particular Cuban farmland.
The case follows President Trump’s 2019 authorization of the 1996 Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows for the recovery of civil damages for trafficking in property confiscated in the Cuban Revolution by the Castro Regime.
Fogo Charcoal is a local Florida entrepreneur and charcoal producer. They specialize in the sale of long-branch charcoal found in South America and briefly imported materials from Cuba between the years of 2017 and 2019 to produce marabú charcoal, which is derived from an invasive weed on the island. The Plaintiff, a grandson of a Cuban American farm owner, claims the marabú charcoal belongs to him in accordance with Helms-Burton Act sanctions. This is a case of first impression that could set the standard for how the Courts interpret “trafficking in confiscated property” and who is liable for such actions.
“The opening of civil lawsuits by President Trump under the Helms Burton Act has opened new and uncertain potential exposure to companies lawfully doing business in Cuba,” said Brandon Hechtman, the partner in Wicker Smith’s Miami office representing Fogo Charcoal.
The case caught national attention as hundreds of millions of dollars of potential Helms-Burton Act claims, certified by the U.S. Secretary of State, are filed in federal courts, primarily in the Southern District of Florida. Developments have been published on Univision.com (View Univision publication by CLICKING HERE) and Law360.com (View Law360 publication by CLICKING HERE).
CASE UPDATE on February 15, 2021:
On appeal, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court recently affirmed, reasoning that the plaintiff could not bring a claim because he admittedly acquired his interest in the confiscated property years after the Act’s cut-off date.