The U.S. Department of Justice today announced that a New York man has pled guilty to illegally importing piranhas.
Joel Rakower, the owner of a Queens-based fish importer named Transship Discounts, was charged with mislabeling piranhas imported into the U.S. The man allegedly instructed his Hong Kong fish supplier to mislabel shipments of piranhas, putting “silver tetras” on the shipping labels instead. Through Transship Discounts Rakower sold nearly 40,000 mislabeled piranhas to fish retailers, making approximately $37,000 for the fish.
The intentional mislabeling began shortly after March 2011, when New York City banned the possession of piranhas. Including New York, 25 states currently regulate or outright ban the sale of piranhas.
“Rakower flouted federal laws meant to protect people and the environment from the illegal trade in wildlife species,” said Robert Dreher, acting assistant attorney general. “Mislabeling imported wildlife presents dangers to the public and the environment and we will continue to prosecute these cases.”
The official sentencing for Rakower will take place in April. Under the terms of the plea bargin, Transship Discounts will pay both a $35,000 fine and $35,000 in restitution to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Rakower himself will have to pay a $3,000 fine.
“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,” said Richard, Queens County district attorney. “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.”