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Press Release

Russian Woman Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Animal DNA

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Russian national residing in Leesburg pleaded guilty today to smuggling animal DNA into the United States at Washington Dulles International Airport.

According to court documents, on August 19, 2022, Polina Perelman arrived at Dulles Airport from Russia. On her Customs Declaration, Perelman denied that she was importing any animals, animal products, or cell cultures. However, during an inspection of her luggage customs officers found a Styrofoam cooler labeled “Research Samples,” containing 19 small vials and tubes packed in dry ice. When asked about the vials and tubes, Perelman said that they contained cell lines and DNA samples that she planned to have sequenced in the United States for her research in Russia. Perelman said that the samples were suspended in a freezing/transport medium containing fetal bovine serum, which also contained dimethyl sulfoxide and Alpha Minimum Essential Medium to help preserve the samples.

Further, according to court documents, Perelman said that she was a researcher at the Institute of Molecular & Cellular Biology in Novosibirsk, Russia, and does genetic sequencing of animal and reptile DNA to study evolution. Perelman admitted that she failed to declare her possession of wildlife products and cell cultures because she was concerned that customs officials might think that the vials contained a disease agent, and that if she declared the samples, customs officials would seize the samples and ask her unwanted questions.

According to court documents, of the 19 samples that Perelman attempted to introduce into the United States, two contained biological material derived from Siberian crane and dhole, endangered species under U.S. law and protected by an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). 

Perelman is scheduled to be sentenced on August 24, 2023. She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Derek W. Gordon, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C.; and Edward Grace, Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Patricia T. Giles accepted the plea.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cristina Stam and Gordon Kromberg are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:23-cr-55.

Updated April 24, 2023

Environmental Justice