May 15, 2004 – LAWFUEL – A Glendale man was arrested this morning on federal charges of illegally importing an injurious species, namely the northern snakehead fish, which can breathe air, walk on land and as an adult voraciously feed on native fish and animals.
Sung Chul “Daniel” Rhee, 46, was arrested without incident this morning at his Koreatown market by agents with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. Rhee is the owner of Assi Super market, where the fish were being sold after they were illegally imported from South Korea.
Rhee is named in a criminal complaint filed earlier this week that alleges three counts of illegally importing live injurious fish into the United States. The complaint specifically alleges that Rhee imported the live fish in three shipments in June 2003. The fish were hidden in larger shipments of fresh food sent by South Korea’s Hae Won Seafood via Korean Air, and the snakeheads were labeled “sea bass” or “bass, fresh water fish.”
An investigation showed that Rhee was selling the fish at Assi Super market for $14.99 a pound. Extrapolating the amount of “sea bass” imported by Assi Super, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that Rhee generated nearly $23,000 in sales of snakehead fish in 2002 and the first half of 2003.
Snakehead fish, which are native to parts of Asia and Africa, are illegal in the United States due to the danger of them being released into the wild and decimating native populations of various species. Snakeheads will compete with native species for food, and as adults they feed on other fish, crustaceans, frogs, and sometime birds and mammals. Compounding this danger is the fact that Snakeheads can breathe air and can move over land from one body of water to another.
The charge of illegally importing injurious species carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. Therefore, if convicted of all three counts in the complaint, Rhee faces a potential penalty of 15 years in prison.
An criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Rhee is expected to make his initial court appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
The case against Rhee is the result of an investigation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.