Pittsburgh Man Pleads Guilty to Trafficking Endangered and Invasive Fish

PITTSBURGH, PA – A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty today in the Western District of Pennsylvania for trafficking in endangered and invasive fish in violation of the Lacey Act.

Anthony Nguyen, aka JoJo Nguyen and Jackie Lee, 49, of Pittsburgh, entered guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Nora B. Fischer to counts one and two of the indictment returned against him on Nov. 13, 2020, alleging that he trafficked in endangered Asian arowana and invasive snakehead fish. Nguyen owned and operated a Pittsburgh business, Ichiban Tropical Fish, specializing in the sale of rare and exotic freshwater tropical fish species.

During his plea hearing, Nguyen admitted to violating the Lacey Act in 2016 when he sold illegally imported Asian arowana, which are native to Southeast Asia and are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Arowana, also known as “dragon fish” or “Asian bonytongue fish,” are considered the most expensive freshwater fish on earth, with highly sought-after specimens selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Arowana are also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), which is reserved for the most endangered species of fish and wildlife.

Nguyen also admitted to violating the Lacey Act for selling invasive and injurious snakehead fish in 2019, in violation of Pennsylvania law. Snakeheads are native to Asia, but have been introduced into freshwater habitats in the U.S.  Pursuant to the terms of Nguyen’s plea agreement, he will also accept responsibility for falsifying documents related to the snakehead shipment.

Nguyen is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 1 and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge.

The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also provided assistance during the investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Patrick M. Duggan of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric G. Olshan.

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