Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Local distiller files civil suit for $75k-plus in damages from tequila heist

Daytoon Distributors is suing Tazmanian Freight Forwarding Inc. and Landstar Express America for damages exceeding $75,000 and requested a jury trial in the case. The suit was filed in the district court on Friday, April 26.

WILMINGTON — A local distillery has filed a civil suit against two transportation and logistics companies for a holiday heist the company said cost them more than $300,000 in product loss, not to mention damages.

READ MORE: Wilmington-based Chactun tequila hits market mid-January, despite holiday cargo heist

Distributor Daytoon Inc. is suing Tazmanian Freight Forwarding Inc. and Landstar Express America for damages exceeding $75,000 and requested a jury trial in the case. The suit was filed in the district court on Friday, April 26.

Daytoon is the umbrella name for numerous products that have launched in Wilmington, including Blue Shark Vodka and most recently Hacienda Chactun Tequila.

At the end of 2023, Daytoon ordered 16 pallets of its tequila, including the first batch of blanco and reposado, to be shipped to North Carolina from Jalisco, Mexico. Roughly nine pallets were interceded in what Daytoon owners Mark Bloomquist and Mark Milliken called a “sophisticated cyber hijack.” 

According to the lawsuit, the shipment was en route on Dec. 15 to Laredo, Texas, before going to Wilmington, North Carolina. Tazmanian acted as the freight forwarder, accepting the load in Mexico and issuing its confirmation to Landstar for pickup on Dec. 18 in Texas. The plaintiff didn’t know a subcontractor was involved.

“Daytoon was unaware of the tender of the load by Tazmanian to Landstar,” the suit explains.

The product was accepted “in good condition,” yet never made it to Wilmington despite communications with the Daytoon team indicating otherwise.

There was not a receipt of billing laying out the terms and conditions of the transport by Tazmanian to Landstar, according to the lawsuit.

Milliken told Port City Daily in January the Chactun team was receiving photos and updates on the delivery — which was experiencing delays mid-December. One photograph they received showed a driver with a flat tire and another picture indicated traffic congestion.

But while in transit to North Carolina, the cargo — under the control and care of Tazmanian and Landstar, according to signatures on the waybill — was stolen. After it was reported to law enforcement, the Los Angeles Police Department located nine pallets in a warehouse in Fontana, California, as part of an unrelated investigation. Landstar also hired investigators, the lawsuit states.

There was apparent product-tampering, with wrapping and some bottles removed from the pallet, as well as bottles opened. They had to be destroyed, due to safety concerns for the public, and as part of the claim process, a certificate of destruction was issued.

“The original trailer was discovered during a sting operation,” Daytoon owner Mark Bloomquist told Port City Daily Monday. “Half of the load was impounded and ultimately destroyed. Due to that fact, the chain of custody had been broken.”

With the reposado having a value of $28.50 a bottle and 11,250 bottles destroyed, it equals $325,125 in losses. There were expenses beyond the theft totaling $17,075 as well, for towing, storage, transportation and product destruction. 

A request for damages incurred by Daytoon had been sent to both Landstar and Tazmanian but were not rendered. The companies have denied liability for the loss. 

“Daytoon was never provided an opportunity to choose two or more levels of liability and did not agree to any level of liability below the Carmack Amendment’s default measure of liability,” the lawsuit says.

The amendment, made to the Interstate Commerce Act of 1877, regulates shipping relationships among carriers. It essentially limits liabilities of carriers for lost or damaged cargo. In the event something does happen amid transit, the amendment does not require a shipper to provide proof of negligence, only to show goods were damaged.  

Damage exemptions for carriers under the Carmack Amendment include an act of God — tornado or earthquake — inherent vice (e.g., highly flammable product), hostile acts by military forces, intervention by government, or default of the shipper. 

The lawsuit indicates the companies are obligated to transport goods and deliver them under satisfied conditions, noting liability due to cargo loss. In addition, Daytoon seeks interest, attorney fees and all costs for which both companies are liable.

Landstar also refused to hand over shipping documents to Daytoon upon request, according to he lawsuit.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Chris Kelly, did not return Port City Daily’s request for comment or questions to be answered by press; neither did representatives from Tazmanian or Landstar. This will be updated upon any response.

Both Hacienda Chactun’s reposado and blanco tequilas have been released in North Carolina since the heist. As well, Daytoon is in receipt of four skids of its soon-to-be-released, four-year-aged anejo tequila. Roughly 240 cases will be stocked to sell in limited release at area ABC stores, with a new anejo to come out annually.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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