Russian Guilty of Caviar Smuggling
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Russian man pleaded guilty Monday to operating a smuggling ring that brought about $860,000 worth of caviar into the United States.
Viktor Tsimbal, 41, former president and owner of Beluga Caviar Inc. in North Miami Beach, Fla., used couriers to bring sturgeon caviar into the country, mostly from Russia, the Justice Department said.
Prosecutors said the couriers smuggled the caviar in suitcases and were paid about $500 per trip. Tsimbal also provided them with plane tickets and apartment and hotel accommodations.
Sturgeon has been protected since April 1998 under an international treaty, but black market trade from Russia and other countries around the Caspian Sea threatens the species.
Tsimbal attempted to sell sturgeon caviar by labeling it Atlantic lumpfish roe, an unprotected species. A search of his business by special agents turned up false labels and caviar worth over $500,000.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s investigation began in 1999 after a series of arrests of Tsimbal’s couriers. Tsimbal was arrested in May at Miami International Airport as he attempted to leave the country with $36,000.
Tsimbal was indicted in June in Miami and pleaded guilty to conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering charges. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 6. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years and a $1 million fine.
His lawyer in Miami could not be reached to comment.