WASHINGTON — David S. Wong, a resident of Elk Grove Village, Ill., pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to violating the Lacey Act for purchasing and re-selling a specific species of fish in the catfish family when he reasonably should have known that the fish had been imported illegally, the Justice Department announced.
Wong admitted to purchasing and re-selling frozen fillets of the fish Pangasius hypophthalmus, a member of the catfish family, marketed by the approved trade names of “swai” or “tra” but referred to in some seafood markets as “basa.” The fish that Wong purchased was labeled as “sole” and imported without the payment of the required anti-dumping duty of 63.88 percent.
According to the plea agreement filed in this case, between November 2005 and May 2006, Wong purchase, on behalf of his employer, over $197,000 worth of frozen fish fillets from Virginia Star Seafood Corporation, in a series of six transactions. In each of Wong’s transactions, the fish ordered and received was Pangasius hypophthalmus but it was labeled as sole. Wong knew that the fish he purchased was subject to an import duty and that there is no such anti-dumping duty imposed on sole. True World Food Chicago LLC, a subsidiary of Wong’s then-employer, True World Food, Inc., entered a guilty plea to a single Lacey Act violation on Dec. 10, 2007.
An anti-dumping duty was placed on Pangasius hypophthalmus imports from Vietnam on Jan. 31, 2003, after a petition was filed by the catfish farmers of America alleging that this fish was being sold in the United States at less than fair market value. According to the indictment in this case, between July 2004 and June 2005, two Virginia-based companies, Virginia Star Seafood Corporation and International Sea Products Corporation, illegally imported from Vietnamese companies Binh Dinh, Antesco and Anhaco, more than ten million pounds of Vietnamese catfish by identifying the fish to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials as other species of fish, including sole, grouper, flounder and conger pike.
The indictment further alleged that, after the Vietnamese catfish was imported into the United States, Henry Nguyen and other salesman for the Virginia companies marketed and sold the illegally imported catfish to seafood buyers including Henry Yip of T.P. Company, David Wong of True World Foods, Inc., and David Chu of Dakon International. Yip entered a guilty plea to a misbranding violation on Nov. 28, 2007.
The case was investigated by Special Agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Food and Drug Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns for the Central District of California, Trial Attorney Mary Dee Carraway and Senior Trial Attorney Elinor Colbourn of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division are prosecuting the case.