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Food Wholesaler Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Tainted Chinese Eel

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Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of California 

Monday, June 5, 2023

LOS ANGELES – A Pomona man and his food wholesale company have pleaded guilty in federal court to attempting to smuggle Chinese frozen roasted eel for human consumption which had been previously refused entry into the United States, federal authorities announced today.

Kevin Sheng Hsiang Fang, 41, and Fang’s City of Industry-based food wholesale business, Yong Chang Trading Co., Ltd. (dba Heng Xing Foods, Inc.), each pleaded guilty May 31 to one count of smuggling and one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.

Fang was a high-volume importer of Chinese frozen roasted eel, commonly known as unagi. The criminal case stems from a shipment of Fang’s imported Chinese frozen roasted eel that was sample tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and found to be unsafe for human consumption, which prompted the FDA to refuse its entry into the United States. Fang admitted that he knowingly re-imported the previously refused Chinese frozen roasted eel, using new entry information and comingled with other eel to evade detection. 

When he pleaded guilty, Fang admitted that the Chinese frozen roasted eel which he tried to import and distribute was adulterated with Gentian Violet, Leucogentian Violet and Malachite Green, unsafe new animal drugs. The use of these antibiotics or chemicals during various stages of aqua-cultured food can result in the presence of residues of the parent compound or its metabolites in the edible portion of the aqua-cultured seafood. The presence of antibiotic residues may contribute to an increase of antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens, according to an FDA alert. Moreover, prolonged exposure to Malachite Green and Gentian Violet has been shown to have a carcinogenic effect.

The FDA, in partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), serves as the first line of defense for America’s imported seafood supply chain and utilizes import alerts for aqua-cultured seafood from countries around the world. Seafood and fish products are temporarily detained with FDA detention holds to prevent the introduction of contaminated food product into commerce. The FDA contacts importers to advise of the hold with a detention hold notification and waits for the sample testing results to establish that a seafood or fish product is non-violative. The regulatory framework prevents the entry and distribution of potentially violative or unsafe seafood to customers in the United States, and it serves to protect the integrity and safety of the imported fish and seafood supply chain for human consumption.

“Federal laws that prohibits the smuggling of certain food products are intended to protect consumers from hazards to their health,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the American people from such public health dangers and to ensure the safety of our food supply.”

“Today’s announcement serves as a reminder that food importers have a critical responsibility to sell food that is safe for American consumers to eat,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert M. Iwanicki of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, Los Angeles Field Office. “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who put the public health at risk by distributing adulterated foods in the U.S. marketplace.”

“This individual showed complete disregard for the health and safety of the U.S. consumer by knowingly bringing tainted products into the market,” said Eddy Wang, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles Acting Special Agent in Charge. “Thanks to the professionalism and dedication of multiple partner agencies, this criminal activity has been disrupted.” 

“The result of this investigation to detect and prevent the illegal trade of wildlife species was made possible through the diligent work, dedication, and collaboration among all law enforcement agencies involved,” said Special Agent in Charge Manisa Kung of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, Pacific Southwest Region.

Fang is scheduled to be sentenced on August 14 by United States District Judge Percy Anderson. As a result of his guilty pleas, Fang will face a statutory maximum sentence of 21 years in federal prison.

This case was investigated by the FDA, Office of Criminal Investigations; Homeland Security Investigations; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Assistant United States Attorney Amanda M. Bettinelli of the Environmental Crimes and Consumer Protection Section is prosecuting the case.

Thom Mrozek
Director of Media Relations
(213) 894-6947


USAO - California, Central

Press Release Number: 23-125

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