The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday said Joel Rakower, along with his company Transship Discounts Ltd., pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., to violating the Lacey Act by mislabeling imported piranhas.
In the plea agreement, Rakower admitted his company purchased piranhas from a Hong Kong tropical fish supplier and imported them to Queens, N.Y.
These shipments must be accompanied by a packing list describing what wildlife is contained in the package being imported, and the importer must provide this packing list to the Fish and Wildlife Service upon import for inspection. In March of 2011, shortly after New York City prohibited possession of piranhas, Rakower instructed the foreign supplier to falsely label the piranhas on packing lists as silver tetras, a common and unaggressive aquarium fish. During 2011 and 2012, Transship submitted packing lists to the Fish and Wildlife Service containing false identifications of 39,548 piranhas, worth about $37,376, which the company then sold to fish retailers in several states.
Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Rakower was “driven by greed and without regard for the health and safety of people or the environment.”
Under the plea agreements, Rakower agreed to pay a $3,000 fine. Transship agreed to serve a two-year period of probation, pay a $35,000 fine and pay $35,000 in restitution to the State of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Law Enforcement. Both parties will be sentenced on April 24.
Piranhas are extremely aggressive and territorial, feeding on insects, fish, and larger prey such as amphibians, reptiles and mammals. As a result of piranhas’ aggressiveness, 25 U.S. states have either banned or regulated piranhas, making them illegal to own or sell.