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New York Man Pleads Guilty to Importing Piranha Into the United States

Close to 40,000 piranhas were falsely mislabeled and imported into the United States via Hong Kong.

By | January 31, 2014

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A New York man has pled guilty in a federal court in Brooklyn to violating the Lacey Act for importing piranhas as silver tetras, and distributing these fish to tropical fish resellers in several states. According to a Department of Justice press release, Joel Rakower of Transship Discounts Ltd., worked with a foreign tropical fish supplier in Hong Kong, instructing the supplier to falsely label the piranha as silver tetras, which are a calm and peaceful aquarium fish.

Piranha
Piranha. Photo by Greg Hume/Wikipedia

As part of his plea agreement, Rakower confessed that his company submitted falsified packing lists to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a direct violation of the Lacey Act. In 2011-2012, Rakower falsely mislabeled 39,548 piranhas, worth approximately $37,376 on the street.

"Driven by greed and without regard for the health and safety of people or the environment, the defendant and his company illegally trafficked in piranha by falsely labeling the imported predatory freshwater fish as being silver tetras, a far more benign fish often kept in home aquariums and having a far less street value than piranha,” U.S. District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in the press release. "I thank the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and our federal colleagues – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division – for providing a reasonable and appropriate resolution of the case.”


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Rakower agreed to pay a $3,000 fine and his solely-owned company will pay a $35,000 fine and $35,000 in restitution to New York state's Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Law Enforcement. His company will also serve two years probation. Both Rakower and Transship Discounts Ltd. will be sentenced April 24, 2014.

The piranha is considered a tankbusting fish due in part to its voracious appetite and razor sharp teeth. The fish is llegal to keep in more than 25 states, and are restricted in other states, requiring licenses or permits. New York passed a law making them illegal to keep in 2011 without a license or permit, and are only allowed for scientific, biological, or exhibition purposes.

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