WASHINGTON, D.C., May 22, 2004 – LAWFUEL – The Department of Justice announced today that Mariusz Chomicz, the President of a caviar company in Poland, pled guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his part in a caviar smuggling conspiracy. The conspiracy
ring used paid couriers to smuggle suitcases filled with caviar into the United
States after new international restrictions were announced in 1998 to protect
“Caspian Sea sturgeon are a species of pre-historic origin which are likely to be
wiped out by the greed of smugglers and those willing to buy from them,” said Tom
Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and
Natural Resources Division. “Recent prosecutions have shown that the caviar trade
is plagued by criminal activity which will result in the inevitable collapse of
sturgeon populations absent vigorous enforcement. The Justice Department is
dedicated to enforcing the laws designed to protect and preserve sturgeon and other
protected wildlife from the threat of extinction.”
“Wildlife smuggling is a vice that needs to be extinguished,” said Marcos Daniel
Jiménez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “We are committed to
vigorously prosecuting those who place the prospect of profits before environmental
and wildlife concerns.”
Chomicz, 29, a Polish national, was sentenced in a late afternoon hearing yesterday
before U.S. District Court Judge Joan A. Lenard. The prosecution of Chomicz is the
tenth criminal case to be brought in the Southern District of Florida relating to
caviar smuggling over the past three years. The individuals previously convicted
in Miami have all received prison sentences.
In pleading guilty, Chomicz admitted that he purchased the caviar on the black
market in Poland and that co-conspirators then hired couriers to smuggle the caviar
into the United States in their luggage. Once the caviar arrived in Miami, another
co-conspirator arranged to pick up the couriers and put them up at a hotel. A
total of 1,539 kilograms of caviar were smuggled during the scheme. Chomicz was
directly responsible for 619 kilograms of smuggled caviar worth as much as $1.8
The caviar was sold to a Miami-based caviar company with the use of a forged U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service import license and false invoices using the name BMT
Trading. No such company ever existed and the smugglers sales price was well below
market value, according to papers filed in Court. While Chomicz received two
checks totaling $51,679 the Miami purchaser of the smuggled caviar wired the bulk
of the payments to various bank accounts in Poland, which were maintained in the
name of other participants in the conspiracy. Chomicz held power-of-attorney over
several of these accounts.
Sturgeon can live up to 100 years. Because the time necessary to reach egg-bearing
age can be up to 20 years and the fish is killed in the process of obtaining the
roe that is salted to make caviar, sturgeon are especially vulnerable. 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 international treaty known as CITES (Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species).
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 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.
Beluga sturgeon were recently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species
Act. Female beluga sturgeon are considered the world’s most valuable commercially
harvested fish because they supply beluga caviar, one of the most highly-prized
delicacies in the world. Unregulated overfishing, loss of spawning habitat, and
poaching to supply the black market beluga caviar trade have all contributed to a
notable decrease in the wild beluga sturgeon population in the Caspian Sea.
Chomicz was part of a conspiracy in which couriers were paid to smuggle black
market caviar from Europe to Miami without CITES certificates or declaration to
the authorities as required. Special Agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
in New York, with the assistance of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
arrested Chomicz at the Newark airport as he attempted to leave the United States.
Chomicz entered a guilty plea in December.
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 Food & Drug
Administration. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the
Southern District of Florida and the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes
Section, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey.