Los Angeles County food wholesaler pleads guilty to smuggling contaminated Chinese eel

Unagi, Onsen egg, fish image.
Image by CohesionSingapore from Pixabay

June 5, 2023 – LOS ANGELES – A Pomona man and his wholesale food company pleaded guilty in federal court to attempting to smuggle Chinese frozen broiled eel for human consumption that had previously been denied entry into the United States. , announced today the federal authorities.

Kevin Sheng Hsiang Fang, 41, and Fang Industry City-based food wholesale business Yong Chang Trading Co., Ltd. (doing the business name Heng Xing Foods, Inc.), pleaded guilty. on May 31, one count of contraband and one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.

Fang was a high-volume importer of Chinese frozen grilled eel, commonly known as unagi. The criminal case stems from a shipment of imported Chinese frozen grilled eel from Fang that was tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and found to be unsafe for human consumption, prompting the FDA to reject its entry to the United States. Fang admitted that he knowingly re-imported the previously rejected Chinese frozen grilled eel, using new input information and mixing it with other eels to evade detection.

When he pleaded guilty, Fang admitted that the frozen Chinese grilled eel he tried to import and distribute was adulterated with gentian violet, leukogen violet and malachite green, new drugs that are unsafe for animals. The use of these antibiotics or chemicals during various stages of farmed aquaculture feeds may result in the presence of residues of the parent compound or its metabolites in the edible portion of farmed seafood. The presence of antibiotic residues may contribute to an increase in antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens, according to an FDA alert. Additionally, prolonged exposure to malachite green and gentian violet have been shown to have a carcinogenic effect.

The FDA, in partnership with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), acts as the first line of defense for the supply chain of seafood imported from the United States and uses import alerts for aquaculture farmed seafood from countries around the world. Seafood and fish are temporarily held on FDA holds to prevent the introduction of contaminated food products into commerce. FDA contacts importers to inform them of the hold with a hold notice and awaits the results of sample tests to establish that a seafood product is not in violation. The regulatory framework prevents the entry and distribution of potentially infringing or unsafe seafood to customers in the United States, and serves to protect the integrity and safety of the seafood supply chain imported for human consumption.

“Federal laws prohibiting the smuggling of certain food products are intended to protect consumers from health hazards,” said US Attorney Martin Estrada. “We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the American people from such public health dangers and ensure the safety of our food supply.”

“Today’s announcement serves as a reminder that food importers have a critical responsibility to sell food that is safe for American consumers,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert M. Iwanicki of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. , Los Angeles Field Office. “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who put public health at risk by distributing adulterated food into the US marketplace.”

“This individual showed complete disregard for the health and safety of the American consumer by knowingly bringing contaminated products to market,” said Eddy Wang, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Los Angeles. “Thanks to the professionalism and dedication of various partner agencies, this criminal activity has been stopped.”

“The outcome of this investigation to detect and prevent illegal trade in wildlife species was made possible through the diligent work, dedication and collaboration between all law enforcement agencies involved,” said Special Agent in Charge Manisa Kung of the Fisheries Service. and US Wildlife, Office of Law Enforcement, Southwest Pacific Region.

Fang is scheduled to be sentenced on August 14 by United States District Judge Percy Anderson. As a result of his guilty plea, Fang will face a maximum statutory sentence of 21 years in federal prison.

This case was investigated by the FDA, Office of Criminal Investigations; Homeland Security Investigations; and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Assistant US Attorney Amanda M. Bettinelli of the Environmental Crimes and Consumer Protection Section is prosecuting the case.
Source: Statement from the Department of Justice