A Garden Grove man was sentenced Monday to six months of house arrest for smuggling protected Asian arowana fish — an expensive freshwater aquarium variety thought in some cultures to bring luck, prosperity and health — from Indonesia into the United States.
Shawn Naolu Lee, 29, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II to forfeit $15,370, which prosecutors determined were proceeds of the defendant’s illegal wildlife sales. The three-year probationary sentence includes 40 hours of community service.
“It does not appear a custodial sentence is needed to protect the public from this defendant,” Wright said from the bench.
Lee, who works in a pet shop, declined to make a statement to the court. He pleaded guilty in May to violating the Endangered Species Act by illegally importing a species of fish facing extinction.
Lee and co-defendant Mickey Tanadi, of Jakarta, 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 $2,000 each.
Tanadi is suspected of placing the fish in water-filled plastic bags, hiddingthem in porcelain pots and shipping them to Lee. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer noticed that the package, labeled “Porcelain Herbal Pots,” was leaking water, and the agency intercepted the shipment.
In a sting operation, Lee signed for delivery of the 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. Tanadi remains at large.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Bettinelli said outside court that the illegal wildlife trade “creates a market and increases demand” for endangered species.
“It threatens to decimate vulnerable populations,” she said. “It’s something we should all be concerned about.”
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.