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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, May 30, 2014

Online Merchant Convicted For Trafficking In Endangered Fish

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced today that Michael Loo was sentenced to 3 years of probation and a fine of $1,000, following his plea of guilty to selling the endangered Asian arowana fish (Scleropages formosus). Loo admitted that after posting an ad on Craigslist, he illegally offered an endangered Asian arowana for sale to an undercover agent for $2,800. This is the second sentencing for the illegal sale of Asian arowanas in this district in the last two weeks. In a related case, Kiem Tran, the owner of the Fish Warehouse in Westminster, California, was sentenced on May 16, 2014, to a term of two years of probation and a $1,000 fine, following his plea of guilty to Transportation of Merchandise Imported Contrary to Law. In pleading guilty, Tran admitted that he engaged in transactions with Loo involving Asian arowana, knowing that the arowana would be transported between Westminster and San Diego. Tran acknowledged that he was aware that the arowanas involved in the transactions were an endangered species and that they had been brought into the United States illegally.

During the investigation of Loo and Tran, 13 Asian arowana fish were seized by agents of U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The endangered fish were forfeited to the government, and have been kept at SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo during the pendency of the cases.

The Asian arowana fish is found in the rivers of Southeast Asia. Due to loss of habitat and over-fishing for aquarium collections, the Asian arowana was listed among the most restrictive species in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1975. The fish, also known as the “bonytongue” or “dragon fish,” can grow to three feet in length and are identified by large metallic scales, double barbels on the jaw, and large pectoral fins which make it look like a dragon in flight. The fish are symbols of prosperity and luck in the Asian culture and are believed to preserve its owner from death by dying itself. The fish is commonly green but the more rare red or golden arowanas are highly prized by collectors, selling for thousands of dollars.

DEFENDANT   Case Number: 12CR2245-JM
Michael Loo    
 
CHARGES

Unlawful Sale of Fish, a felony, in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372 and 3373
Maximum Penalty: 20 years in custody, a $250,000 fine and a $100 penalty assessment


DEFENDANT   Case Number: 14CR396-JM
Kiem Tran    
 
CHARGES

Transportation of Merchandise Imported Contrary to Law, a felony, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 545
Maximum Penalty: 5 years in custody, a $20,000 fine and a $100 penalty assessment

INVESTIGATING AGENCY

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

*Indictments and complaints are not evidence that the defendant committed the crime charged.  All defendants are presumed innocent until the United States meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.     

Updated July 23, 2015