A man from the Little Saigon area of Westminster pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony charge for illegally importing more than a dozen federally protected turtles and fish species from Vietnam.
Kevin Duc Vu, who sold fish and turtles on the internet, faces up to 20 years behind bars when he is sentenced Feb. 5 by U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder.
Vu, 44, admitted in a plea agreement that he imported seven “big- headed” turtles and seven Asian arowana fish — both of which are protected under the federal Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and can only be brought into the United States with permits.
The package from Vietnam — labeled “aquarium supplies” — also contained seven “four-eyed” turtles, six Asian box turtles and a black- breasted turtle, which are also all protected under federal law, according to the plea deal filed in Los Angeles federal court.
The FedEx package was intercepted on Sept. 29, 2016, by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and examined by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents. Six of the turtles ultimately died as a result of being shipped through the mail, prosecutors said.
The value of the illicit wildlife totaled more than $67,000 on the black market, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Several months earlier, Vu paid $6,600 to the same overseas supplier for 16 arowana fish, divided into two shipments, court papers show. FedEx delivered the packages to Vu’s home in May 2016 and the defendant sold the fish between the time of their arrival and the execution of a search warrant by wildlife agents five months later, according to the government.
When federal agents searched Vu’s home on Oct. 5, 2016, they found four dead arowana fish in a freezer and two live black-breasted turtles.
Prosecutors said Vu sold arowana fish over the internet for $1,900 apiece, and pocketed between $650 to $1,000 for Asian turtles, depending on the species.
—City News Service