Seafood company owner sentenced in lobster case
By By CITIZEN STAFF,2023-06-01
The owners of a Florida seafood company doing business in the Florida Keys has been ordered to pay $250,000 in fines and was sentenced to five years of probation, despite prosecutors asking for 18 months in prison.
Aifa Seafood, Inc., (Aifa), which operates out of Florida City, and company president Jiu Fa Chen, 57, of Parkland, were sentenced Tuesday, May 23, after pleading guilty earlier this year to exporting falsely-labeled spiny lobster from Florida to China, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office in Miami.
From May through August 2019, Aifa purchased seafood products for export to China, federal prosecutors said. To meet the high demand for spiny lobster, Aifa imported lobster from Haiti for reexport to China. Aifa reexported approximately 5,900 pounds of lobster and falsely labeled the product in shipping documents as “Live Florida Spiny Lobsters, Product of U.S.A,” The U.S. Attorneys Office stated in a press release on Tuesday evening.
U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno imposed the sentences. AIFA must pay a fine of $250,000, with $150,000 payable immediately and the balance by the end of this year. AIFA also must serve five years of probation, establish and implement a compliance plan, retain a compliance officer to be approved by the court, and submit to a complete audit of its books and records by a court-approved third-party auditor. Chen must immediately pay a $100,000 fine and serve five years of probation, subject to the same terms as AIFA. Both fines are payable to the NOAA Lacey Act Fund, according to federal prosecutors.
In exchange for Chen accepting a plea, federal prosecutors dropped the charges against his Dan Q. Lin.
U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida, Assistant Director Manny Antonaras of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Southeast Division, Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael E. Buckley, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Miami, and the Statewide Investigations Section of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Division of Law Enforcement, announced the sentences on Tuesday.
NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, HSI Key Largo, and FWC Division of Law Enforcement investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald prosecuted the case.
Federal prosecutors urge anyone with information regarding wildlife crimes to contact the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement Hotline: (800) 853-1964 and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 1-800-344-9453. Locally, environmental crimes, including wildlife violations and environmental justice matters may be reported to the U.S. Attorney’s Office at 305-961-9001 or http://www.USFLS.Environmental@usdoj.gov.