FORT LAUDERDALE CAVIAR DEALER CONVICTED

From the USFWS:

R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of
Florida, Eddie McKissick, Miami Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Service, and Darwin Huggins, Atlanta Resident Agent in Charge,
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, announced that MAX MOGHADDAM, a/k/a Bahmadi
Moghaddam Mohammad, a/k/a Mohammad Moghaddam, 58, of Plantation , Florida,
and BEMKA CORPORATION, d/b/a BEMKA CORPORATION HOUSE OF CAVIAR AND FINE
FOODS, of Fort Lauderdale, were convicted in Miami today by a federal jury
on charges of conspiracy, false labeling of export shipments, and the
illegal export of internationally protected fish roe (eggs) during the
period from July 2005 through April 2007. MOGHADDAM and BEMKA were
convicted for their participation in the export of significant quantities
of the roe of the American paddlefish, in violation of the laws, treaties,
and regulations of the United States, contrary to the Lacey Act, Title 16,
United States Code, Sections 3372 and 3373, the conspiracy statute, Title
18, United States Code, Section 371, and the Endangered Species Act, Title
16, United States Code, Section 1538(c)(1).

The case, which was heard before the Honorable Federico Moreno, United
States District Court Judge, began on Monday morning. Judge Moreno set
sentencing for February 12, 2009. MOGHADDAM faces up to five years
imprisonment on the conspiracy and false labeling charges, and up to one
year in prison on the Endangered Species Act charge, as well as significant
criminal fines and BEMKA faces a criminal fine of up to $200,000 on the
Endangered Species Act charge, and $500,000 on each of the remaining
charges. MOGHADDAM was remanded into custody after a post-conviction bond
hearing.

According to the evidence presented in the case, the American paddlefish,
polyodon spathula, is native to the Mississippi River drainage system and
is harvested for both its meat and roe (eggs). Once common throughout the
Midwest, over fishing and habitat changes have caused major population
declines. The paddlefish is a close relative of the sturgeons from which
most commonly known caviars come and paddlefish roe has qualities similar
to sturgeon caviars. With diminishing world sturgeon populations and
increased international protection for declining stocks, American
paddlefish has become a substitute for sturgeon caviar and as such has
become quite valuable.

American paddlefish is a species listed for protection since 1992 in
Appendix II of an international treaty known as the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (
“CITES”). A purpose of CITES is to monitor and restrict trade in certain
species of fish, wildlife, and plants to protect them from commercial
exploitation that might diminish the ability of the species to survive in
the wild. More than 170 countries cooperate in the enforcement of the
provisions of CITES, including the United States and Belgium, by
implementing domestic laws to effectuate its underlying goals.

CITES classifies protected species in its Appendices. Appendix II includes
all species “which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction
may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to
strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their
survival.” Accordingly, the export of the American paddlefish, and its
parts and derivatives including the roe, is subject to the requirements of
CITES, the ESA, and the regulations thereto. To engage in trade in
paddlefish, all imports or exports must be accompanied by a CITES export
certificate from the country of origin, or a re-export permit from a
country of re-export. CITES export permits for American paddlefish are
issued, upon approval of an application by the exporter, by the United
States Fish & Wildlife Service. The American paddlefish is also protected
by the various states in their range.

According to the evidence and documents presented, none of the participants
in the shipments at issue bound for Brussels, Belgium, applied for or
secured the necessary permits, and the American paddlefish was falsely
described on shipping invoices and customs documents as bowfin roe.
“Bowfin” (Amia calva), is another species indigenous to U.S. rivers, which
produces a roe sometimes used as a caviar substitute, but which is not
listed by CITES in any Appendix, and is exempt from the declaration
requirements of the Fish and Wildlife Service. The scheme was detected when
a Wildlife Inspector on duty at the Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport became
suspicious of the appearance of the fish roe in a Bemka-originated shipment
awaiting transport to Brussels.

Mr. Acosta commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the Special
Agents of the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service which brought the investigation
leading to the Indictment. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United
States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United
States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at
http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may
be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of
Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on
http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov. Related information regarding the
investigation and conviction by Environment Canada may be found on
http://www.ec.gc.ca .