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