A Garden Grove man pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal charge of illegally importing protected Asian arowana fish — an expensive freshwater aquarium variety thought in some cultures to bring luck, prosperity and health.
Shawn Naolu Lee, 29, is scheduled to be sentenced July 23 in downtown Los Angeles on the single felony count. Prosecutors are recommending that U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II impose a probationary sentence to include six months of house arrest.
Lee and co-defendant Mickey Tanadi, who was located in Indonesia, were indicted last year in connection with the discovery of a parcel containing eight arowanas imported and received from Indonesia. Arowanas — also known as “arrows” and “dragon fish” — sell on the black market for as much as $1,000 each.
Court papers show that the fish were hidden in plastic bags placed in porcelain pots. In a sting operation, Lee signed for delivery of the DHL international parcel on Feb. 10, 2017, at the home of his parents, where he was living. A search of the residence turned up more than $15,000 in cash in Lee’s room, which prosecutors determined were proceeds of the defendant’s illegal wildlife sales.
The colorful Asian arowana is protected by the Endangered Species Act and cannot legally be brought into the United States. In some Asian communities, the fish is thought to bring wealth and protection to businesses, and some owners believe the fish can understand their thoughts.
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