Alleged eel smuggler accused of trafficking tainted unagi from China to US

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 Monday.

Kevin Sheng Hsiang Fang, 41, and his Industry-based food wholesale business, Yong Chang Trading Co., both pleaded guilty last week to federal counts of smuggling and introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

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 U.S. Food and Drug Administration and found to be unsafe for human consumption, which prompted the FDA to refuse its entry into the United States.

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Photo courtesy US DOJ

Fang admitted he knowingly re-imported the previously refused Chinese frozen roasted eel, using new entry information and commingled with other eel to evade detection, according to papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.

When he pleaded guilty Wednesday, 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.

"Federal laws that prohibits the smuggling of certain food products are intended to protect consumers from hazards to their health," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement. "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."

Fang faces up to 21 years behind bars when he is scheduled on Aug. 14, federal prosecutors said.