April 24, 2003
Jackson, TN --- On April 16, 2003, five individuals from Russia and other Eastern block nations were arrested in New York and Los Angeles on an 8-count indictment handed down by a Federal grand jury in Jackson, Tennessee for illegally trading in caviar derived from paddlefish and domestic sturgeon unlawfully taken and sold from U.S. lakes and rivers in Tennessee and Kentucky. The arrests resulted from a 2-year undercover investigation conducted by special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and State wildlife officers from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Valeri and Gennady Akselrud, owners of D & G Trading Company of Staten Island, New York, Arkady Voloshin, owner of Kashtan Wholesale Groceries/Kashtan Russian Cuisine of West Hollywood, California, and Marc and Irina Akselrud, operators of Caviar and Delicatessen Trading Company of Los Angeles, California, were charged with conspiracy and violations of the Federal Lacey Act by unlawfully dealing in what is known as “American caviar” in interstate commerce. The American caviar was often labeled and sold as Russian caviar.
In addition to the illegal purchase and sale of caviar through cash transactions, Valeri and Gennady Akselrud also acquired illegally obtained paddlefish and sturgeon roe, by barter, providing undercover investigators with counterfeit “name brand” goods such as: Rolex, Cartier and Chopard style watches, designer-name clothes, sunglasses, and Monte Blanc pens in exchange for caviar.
Under the indictment, Valeri and Gennady Akselrud were each charged with one count of conspiracy and six counts of violations of the Lacy Act and Arkady Voloshin and Marc Akselrud were each charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of violations of the Lacey Act. Irina Akselrud was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act.
After their arrest, Valeri and Gennady Akselrud were released awaiting trial after each posted a bond of $250,000. Arkady Voloshin was released under $100,000 bond and Marc and Irina Akselrud were released under $10,000 bond each.
These arrests follow the convictions of eight other individuals and four other businesses in Tennessee, Kentucky and New York whose illegal caviar dealings were exposed during the course of the investigation. Another subject and business remain under indictment and are awaiting trial in Kentucky at this time. Service and State conservation agencies launched this investigation in 1998 to stem the growing illegal take of U.S. caviar-producing species, such as paddlefish, short-nosed sturgeon, and the endangered pallid sturgeon. Depletion of sturgeon populations in the Black and Caspian Sea regions and continued global demand for caviar have prompted increased exploitation of U.S. fish and profiteering in domestic roe, much of it falsely labeled and sold as high-price Russian caviar.
“The natural resources of the United States are part of our cherished heritage and, if properly managed, a source of continued benefit to all Americans,” said Thomas M. Riley, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeastern Region. “History repeatedly shows that species subjected to unrestricted commercial trade quickly vanish. We can only conserve resources if we use them wisely.”
The Lacey Act makes it a violation of Federal law to knowingly transport, sell, receive, acquire and purchase in interstate commerce, any fish and wildlife taken, possessed, transported and sold in violation of any law and regulation of any State; and to knowingly make and submit any false record, account, and label for any false identification of any fish, wildlife which has been and intended to be transported in interstate commerce. The maximum criminal penalty, per Lacey Act violation is 5 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 for individuals and the fine doubles to $500,000 for a corporation or business.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses 541 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://southeast.fws.gov. Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/.
Atlanta, GA 30345