Federal authorities announced Thursday that they had charged 12 people and confiscated nearly $ 8 million in cash, jewelry and precious metals after disrupting a criminal enterprise that traded drugs and sold illegally harvested shark fins to buyers overseas.
US attorney Bobby Christine of the southern district of Georgia said that what began five years ago as the US Fish and Wildlife Service investigation into the illegal trade in shark fins led authorities to "dismantle a major conspiracy" which also has to do with illegal marijuana trafficking and money laundering.
"This operation is about much more than disrupting the despicable practice of chopping sharks off their fins and drowning them in the ocean to make a bowl of soup," Christine said at a press conference in Savannah.
A lawsuit in the US District Court alleged that Terry Xing Zhao Wu ran a company called Serendipity Business Solutions in Burlingame, California, that smuggled shark fins from Mexico to the US and shipped them to Hong Kong.
Shark fin soups are considered a delicacy in some Asian countries, and this demand has led to an illegal practice of capturing sharks at sea, removing their fins, and then throwing the mutilated animals back into the water to die.
The indictment states that Wu used a frontline company in Florida to ship at least 5,670 kilograms of dried shark fins via the port of Savannah to Hong Kong in 2016 and 2017. Prosecutors said Phoenix Fisheries, of Panama City, Florida, used forged papers to exploit a Florida law that allows licensed traders to sell shark fins that are legally caught and brought ashore as a whole.
Wu was also charged with illegally moving marijuana from California to Georgia and other parts of the United States.
Using third-party accounts, some of the profits have been converted into precious metals and jewels to hide their illegal origins, Christine said.
During the arrests in the case, authorities seized more than $ 3.9 million in cash, about $ 3 million in gold, silver and other metals, and $ 1 million in diamonds.
The court records did not list defense lawyers for Wu or any of the other 11 defendants charged with conspiracy charges of wire and postal fraud, drug possession, and money laundering. Christine said the investigation is still ongoing and further arrests may be made.
"Make no mistake: we met her where it hurts and we have her on the ropes," said Christine.