Caviar Prosecutions

*/ various types of caviar.  Courtesy USDA.

U.S. v. U.S. Caviar & Caviar, Hossein Lolavar, Fay Briggs, and Ken Noroozi

Photograph of two forged caviar labels and a real label on top.Between 1995 and 1998, defendants smuggled caviar protected by international treaty through the United States with forged Russian caviar labels to make it appear that the caviar was produced and exported by a large, legitimate Russian caviar supplier, when in fact it had actually been smuggled out of Russia or from other countries bordering the Caspian Sea.  Defendants were found guilty of the following counts:

One, smuggling black market sturgeon caviar into the U.S. with forged Russian caviar labels.  In one instance they purchased 7 tons of caviar packed in unrefrigerated suitcases that had been smuggled out of Russia.  After sturgeon became protected under CITES, Lolavar and Noroozi paid to obtain caviar with CITES permits which they came to learn had been obtained by bribery and by supplying prostitutes to U.A.E. government officials.

Two, selling fish roe from protected species in the United States with false wildlife documents claiming the roe was Sevruga caviar from Russia.  Lolavar, Briggs and U.S. Caviar participated in a mail fraud scheme to defraud customers by substituting domestic American Paddlefish and Shovelnose Sturgeon (Hackleback) roe for authentic Russian caviar.  Paddlefish and Hackleback are protected fish native to the United States.  DNA testing of caviar sold to American Airlines as Russian Sevruga by National Fish & Wildlife Forensics Laboratory found it to be domestic Paddlefish and Hackleback roe.

Three, mail fraud.  The defendants sold black market, previously frozen, partially cooked and pasturized, and misbranded caviar to victim customers including airlines, caviar wholesalers, seafood suppliers, and gourmet stores such as American Airlines, Sutton Place Gourmet, and Fresh Fields (Whole Foods).  

Four, “double invoicing” caviar imports to avoid government scrutiny, understate the value, lower duties and conceal hidden tins of Beluga, the world’s most expensive caviar.  In order to escape government scrutiny in the United States, Lolavar and Noroozi and their respective companies submitted false invoices understating the value of the caviar to U.S. Customs while a second invoice containing the actual prices was prepared for financing purposes.  The result was a substantial underpayment in import duties.  In 1998 alone, U.S. Caviar purchased more than 30,000 pounds of Caspian Sea sturgeon caviar and of which approximately 18,000 pounds was imported from the UAE with false documents. 

The corporate defendant was one of the largest importers of caviar in the United States and was fined $10.4 million criminal fine, the largest ever in a wildlife prosecution.  Also convicted were Hossein Lolavar, President of U.S. Caviar & Caviar (U.S. Caviar), Faye Briggs, a corporate officer and the company’s sales manager, and Ken Noroozi, the President of Kenfood Trading LLC, each pled guilty today to a wildlife smuggling scheme involving caviar from protected sturgeon.  

US v. Connoisseur Brands and Alfred Yazbak (DMD)

Operation Malossol was a covert operation in which Connoisseur Brands and its President, Alfred Yazback, were caught by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents as they posed as buyers with Sutton Place Gourmet in Rockville, MD.  Yazbak and his company were a caviar wholesaler that sold to cruise ships, airlines and many well known food chains including Airlines,  Balducci’s, Dean & Deluca, Harry & David and Trader Joe’s.   
 
A can of Connoisseur Brands Beluga caviar.The undercover agent, in cooperation with Sutton Place, purchased caviar from Connoisseur Brands, which was then DNA tested by the FWS National Forensics Laboratory in Oregon. The DNA results showed that the vast majority of Russian Sevruga caviar – one of three types of commercially available caviar – purchased from Connoisseur was in fact fish eggs from the American Paddlefish, a protected species indigenous to the United States and found in the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers.  
 
Yazbak was convicted of false statements to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service because he asked the undercover agent posing as an illegal fisherman for false documents so he’d have the necessary papers to apply for export permits.   The requested documents falsely stated that this source had sold Yazback 534 pounds of roe from the Shovelnose Sturgeon, a protected species in the United States also known as Hackleback, and planned to sell another 4,000 pounds, when Yazback had only purchased 10 pounds.  The agency refused to grant the export permit after calculating that to total 4,534 pounds of Shovelnose Sturgeon roe would require killing between 68,010 to 170,025 fish.  

United States v. Viktor Tsimbal

Several containers of Beluga caviar.Viktor Tsimbal, a Russian national, was the President and owner of Beluga Caviar, one of the largest wholesalers of caviar in the United States.  Tsimbal imported more Beluga caviar into the United States from Russia via Poland in 1999 than the entire Russian export quota for the year.  He orchestrated a conspiracy in which full time couriers were paid approximately $500 for each trip and were provided airline tickets, pre-packed luggage filled with black market caviar and apartment and hotel rooms in Europe and Miami.  In addition, he used bank accounts in Europe to launder the proceeds of the wildlife smuggling scheme.  
 
Tsimbal was convicted of conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering, sentenced to 41 months in prison, forfeited $36,000 in his possession at the time of his arrest at the Miami International Airport, and caviar stockpile worth approximately $860,000 at the time.

United States v. Mariusz Chomicz

Mariusz Chomicz was the President of a caviar company in Poland.  Chomicz purchased the caviar on the black market in Poland and that co-conspirators then hired couriers to smuggle the caviar into the United States in their luggage.  Once the caviar arrived in Miami, another co-conspirator arranged to pick up the couriers and put them up at a hotel.  A total of 1,539 kilograms of caviar were smuggled during the scheme.  He was directly responsible for 619 kilograms of smuggled caviar worth as much as $1.8 million at the time. 

Chomicz was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his part in a smuggling conspiracy in which paid couriers brought suitcases filled with caviar into the United States.


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In the News
May 21, 2004
Company President Pleads Guilty to Caviar Smuggling Conspiracy. Miami-Based Ring used Paid Couriers to Smuggle Caviar in Suitcases
The Department of Justice announced today that Mariusz Chomicz, the President of a caviar company in Poland, pled guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his part in a caviar smuggling conspiracy. The conspiracy ring used paid couriers to smuggle suitcases filled with caviar into the United States after new international restrictions were announced in 1998 to protect sturgeon.
August 26, 2002
Company President Pleads Guilty to Caviar Smuggling Conspiracy, Miami-Based Ring used Paid Couriers to Smuggle Caviar in Suitcases
The Department of Justice announced that Viktor Tsimbal, the president of Beluga Caviar Inc., pled guilty today to a far-reaching wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which he paid couriers to bring suitcases filled with caviar into the United States after new international restrictions were announced in 1998 to protect sturgeon.
January 31, 2002
Caviar Company and President Convicted in Smuggling Conspiracy; Gourmet Food Retailers got Counterfeit and Doctored Caviar for New Year 2000
The Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division announced today that Alfred Yazback, president and owner of Connoisseur Brands Ltd., will serve time in prison and pay fines for conspiring to smuggle protected sturgeon caviar and making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), as well as selling counterfeit caviar to retail food companies with false labels in violation of the Lacey Act, a wildlife protection statute.

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Updated April 13, 2015

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