NEW YORK (AP) _ A caviar importer and his top salesman were convicted Wednesday of smuggling thousands of pounds of Russian roe through Kennedy Airport, bound for upscale Manhattan stores.

The defendants, Eugeniusz Koczuk, the 48-year-old owner of a Stamford, Conn., company called Gino International, and Wieslaw Rozbicki, 37, were the first people to be prosecuted under new provisions in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species _ a treaty protecting sturgeon and other wildlife.

A jury in Brooklyn federal court found Koczuk guilty of six counts of smuggling and violating wildlife-protection laws. Rozbicki was convicted of one count.

Both face a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison; no sentencing date was set. Their attorneys said they would appeal.

During what at times resembled a drug trafficking trial, jurors learned that since last April anyone carrying more than a half-pound of caviar into the United States must produce permits showing it was legally harvested.

The regulations are aimed at reversing a 70 percent drop in the population of Caspian Sea sturgeon over the last 20 years.

Prosecutors charged that the defendants ignored the new restrictions and instead paid off-duty Polish airline employees $500 each to smuggle tins of Caspian caviar in their luggage on flights from Poland to New York.

Records show the company distributed more than 20,000 pounds of caviar _ worth between $10 and $15 million retail _ between April and November of 1998.