Skip to main content
Press Release

Woman Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Endangered Sea Cucumbers through South Florida Airport

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida

MIAMI – On Dec. 11, Xiao Pingping, 38, pled guilty to smuggling shark fins, sea horses, and sea cucumbers and attempted smuggling of American Ginseng. The Court sentenced her the same day to one month in federal prison.

The three-count indictment charged Xiao with two counts of smuggling shark fins, sea horses, and sea cucumbers into the United States and one count of smuggling American ginseng out of the United States.  American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a plant species that is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  

According to the agreed upon factual proffer in support of Xiao’s plea to the three-count indictment, on January 14, 2022, Xiao sent a package from Brazil to an individual in Florida and Xiao intentionally misidentified the contents of the package. Xiao wrote on the shipping label that the package contained “fish belly,” when, instead, she had concealed 33 sea horses, 435 sea cucumbers, and 16 shark fins, which are wildlife and required to be declared to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”), pursuant to federal regulations.

On Nov. 19, Xiao travelled from Managua, Nicaragua to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (“FLL”), Florida.  When border officers reviewed Xiao’s luggage in an X-ray scan, they observed various anomalies. Xiao lied to the border agents and told them that she was not carrying any plants, food, seeds, fruits, vegetables, endangered species and/or meat on her person or in her luggage and had nothing to declare.  Border officers searched Xiao’s luggage by hand and identified 11 sea cucumbers concealed in the clothing packed in her bag. After the border officers discovered the sea cucumbers, Xiao intentionally misidentified the wildlife by telling the border officers that the sea cucumbers were “fish belly,” however, she later admitted they were sea cucumbers, which are required to be declared to USFWS pursuant to federal regulations. Border officers seized the sea cucumbers and explained to Xiao that federal regulations and laws required her to declare plants and wildlife.

On Nov. 24, Xiao checked a cardboard box at FLL for a flight from FLL to Managua, Nicaragua.  Border officers again observed various anomalies that resembled organic material inside the box when the box passed through an x-ray scan. Border officers stopped Xiao on the jet bridge as she attempted to board the aircraft with a piece of carry-on luggage.  Xiao denied that she had anything in her bags or checked box to declare.  Border officers searched Xiao’s checked box and carryon luggage by hand and discovered 9 bags and four boxes of American Ginseng contained therein.  Pursuant to federal regulations, CITES requires an export permit for protected plant species such as American Ginseng. Xiao intentionally failed to disclose the American Ginseng, knowing she had a declaration duty after being informed of such agricultural regulations just five days prior when border officers searched her luggage and seized the eleven sea cucumbers.

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge Stephen Clark for USFWS Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Region, made the announcement.

USFWS Office of Law Enforcement in Miami, Florida and Portland, Oregon conducted the investigation, with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations and Customs and Border Protection. 

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily R. Stone.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at or at under case number 23-CR- 60231-WPD.



Public Affairs Unit

U.S. Attorney’s Office

Southern District of Florida

Updated December 14, 2023

Environmental Justice