Marky’s Caviar to Pay $1 Million Criminal Fine for Dealing in Black Market Caviar
MIAMI, FL – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida announced today that Optimus, Inc., a Miami-based gourmet company doing business as Marky’s Caviar and the International Food Emporium, was sentenced today on federal wildlife and smuggling charges. Optimus, Inc., one of the largest importers of sturgeon caviar in the United States, previously admitted that it purchased approximately 5.9 tons of smuggled caviar from five separate smuggling rings.
U.S. District Court Judge Alan S. Gold sentenced Optimus, Inc. to pay a $1 million criminal fine and ordered that the fine money be deposited into the Lacey Act Reward Account, a fund used by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to provide financial incentives for information leading to convictions of wildlife law violators. The company is also required to adhere to a stringent wildlife compliance plan and will remain subject to government and court supervision while serving five years of probation.
“This should send a strong message to companies who deliberately compromise our environmental laws that their conduct will not be tolerated,” stated Acting Assistant Attorney General Kelly A. Johnson of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“Marky’s Caviar placed a premium on future profits and disregarded the law and the future of this species of caviar,” said U.S. Attorney Marcos Daniel Jimenez. “Those who illegally plunder nature’s resources in favor of profits will be brought to justice.”
A majority of the criminal activity occurred between late 1999 and early 2000, at which time there was a particularly high demand for sturgeon caviar, a perennial New Year’s and holiday gourmet delicacy. Optimus directed its suppliers to provide invoices stating that the caviar had been lawfully imported into the United States, even though there were indications to the contrary.
According to papers filed in Court, including a detailed joint factual statement signed by the company’s president and vice-president, Optimus, Inc. has admitted committing the following crimes:
* Knowingly purchasing sturgeon caviar with false wildlife invoices: Optimus, Inc. Purchased caviar with false and fictitious invoices that concealed the quantity and price per kilogram being paid for the caviar. The use of false wildlife documents is a felony violation of the Lacey Act, a wildlife protection law. This caviar was purchased from Beluga Caviar, Inc., a company owned by Victor Tsimbal who has been previously convicted in the Southern District of Florida for smuggling caviar into the United States with a ring of paid couriers.
* Knowingly purchasing smuggled caviar: Optimus Inc. purchased caviar from two smuggling rings operating in Miami while deliberately closing its eyes to the facts that would have indicated it was smuggled. Optimus wired money to various foreign bank accounts in exchange for caviar that was delivered to the company’s headquarters.
* Failing to exercise due care in purchasing smuggled caviar: Optimus purchased caviar from two additional smuggling rings. In both cases, Optimus purchased the caviar from these companies without ever receiving any document which would have indicated that the caviar had been lawfully imported into the United States.
A major threat to the survival of the sturgeon is the trade in black market caviar smuggled from Russia and four other Caspian Sea nations. As of April 1, 1998, the protection accorded to sturgeon was greatly enhanced by the listing of all species as protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Prior to importing caviar into the United States from a foreign country, a valid foreign export permit issued by the country of origin or a valid foreign re-export certificate issued by the country of re-export must first be obtained. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it unlawful for any person subject to United States jurisdiction to engage in trade or to possess any specimens traded contrary to the provisions of CITES.
The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. This investigation was conducted by special agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Division of Law Enforcement in Miami and New York, with assistance provided by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Food & Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigation.