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Restaurateur gets prison, girlfriend acquitted in sea cucumber-smuggling case

Seacucumber. Stichopus Variegatus. Witu Islands. West New Britain. Papua New Guinea. Pacific Ocean
When the couple was stopped at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, agents found 172 pounds of dried sea cucumber in the car.
(AGF / UIG via Getty Images)

The cases against a man and his girlfriend accused of trying to smuggle endangered sea life through the San Ysidro Port of Entry concluded this month with very different results.

Alan Ren, owner of two Chinese restaurants in New York, was sentenced Feb. 2 to 10 months in prison, fined $7,500 and ordered to pay $16,600 in restitution after pleading guilty last year.

Wei Wei Wang took the case to trial and was acquitted in federal court in San Diego on Wednesday of all four charges, including smuggling and unlawful importation of wildlife.

The couple was stopped at the border in February 2016 as they tried to cross. Ren, who was driving, told the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer that they were going to do some shopping and had nothing to declare, court records say. But the officer spotted suitcases and garbage bags in the back of the minivan and asked what was inside.

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Ren first said clothing, but then admitted there were sea cucumbers for friends and family.

The officer found 172 pounds of dried sea cucumber — protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species — and 83 pounds of frozen black abalone, an endangered species found off California and Baja California.

Both items require proper authorization to bring into the United States.

The seafood was seized, but Ren and Wang were released.

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Three months after the stop, Ren produced two receipts from a seafood vendor in Ensenada that falsely claimed to be invoices for the products.

In his plea agreement, he admitted he did not have the proper permits to import or export the seafood, or to act as a commercial importer of fish or wildlife.

Some of the seafood was found in luggage that appeared to belong to Wang, who was sharing an apartment in Tijuana with Ren at the time of the border crossing, prosecutors said.

kristina.davis@sduniontribune.com

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Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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