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Manhattan lawyer, fiancee are fined and lose car following customs matter

Benjamin Natter, 32, a Manhattan lawyer and collector of English-made Land Rover Defender vehicles, and his fiancee, Ruth Martinez, 37, also of Manhattan, were fined $5,000 apiece by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy in Buffalo on Tuesday and the judge ordered the 20-year-old vehicle they tried to bring into this country forfeited to the federal government.

The couple pleaded to "aiding and abetting the failure to present a vehicle for inspection to customs officers."

U.S. Attorney Carol Giarrizzo Bridge said that in May 2013 Natter bought a Land Rover Defender from a seller in England and then paid a friend to import the car into Canada. On Oct. 19, 2013, the friend drove the Land Rover into the U.S. over the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls using license plates Natter and Martinez had given him, according to officials.

Custom and Border Protection officers pulled the vehicle in for an inspection and found its actual license plates were from England and that the vehicle was less than 25 years old. Because the vehicle had not undergone a safety inspection, it was seized at the border.

Authorities said Natter and Martinez subsequently gave federal officials false information about the ownership and origin of the vehicle.