ANCHORAGE - Five Anchorage men have been indicted by a federal ground jury on felony charges of poaching black bears and conspiring to sell gall bladders and other body parts.
In a case stemming from bear killings in Prince William Sound, Tae Won Roe, 33, Kwan Su Yi, 32, and James Ho Moon, 26, were charged with conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, attempted export and sale of illegally taken wildlife and false statements concerning wildlife.
In a separate case involving bears killed on the Kenai Peninsula, Chi Ung Kim, 82, and Kil Young Chu, 69, were charged with conspiracy and sale of illegally taken wildlife.
Fourteen bears were poached in the two cases, said U.S. Attorney Tim Burgess.
Yi had no comment on the charges. Other defendants could not be reached for comment.
Prosecutors also filed misdemeanor counts against airplane pilot Timothy John Karlovich, 51, owner of JayHawk Air of Anchorage, on charges of conducting a commercial enterprise on national wildlife refuge land without a permit and trespass on a national wildlife refuge. He is accused of illegally transporting Chu and Kim.
Karlovich had not heard of the charges when contacted Thursday night. He said investigators had indicated he would not be charged.
"I've been assisting in the investigation and providing them with information," Karlovich said. "I'm a little bit dismayed that this cooperation has resulted in charges."
In a separate case, Thomas Ling Ming Cha, 69, was charged with misdemeanor Lacey Act violations. He is accused of transporting black bear gall bladders from South Dakota and Colorado to Alaska from October 1999 to August 2001.
Burgess said Alaska officials are anxious to keep the big business of illegal sales of wildlife out of the state.
"Trade in illegal wildlife generates nearly $5 billion per year worldwide, second only to narcotics sales, according to Interpol," Burgess said.
Over the same period and a few years earlier, carcasses of 50 other black bears have been found, said assistant U.S attorney Steven Skrocki.
Black bear gall bladders are highly desired in some Asian countries, including Korea, for use as a traditional cure-all. Burgess said black bear gall bladders sell for $500 to $4,000. Gall bladders from wild bears are especially prized, said Stan Pruszenski, special agent in charge of the U.S. Wildlife Service in Alaska.
Prosecution of the Prince William Sound case began in 2002 after biologists conducting stream surveys happened to land their Piper Super Cub next to the suspects' new 22-foot aluminum boat, which had been launched from Whittier. Prosecutors believe Yi, Ro and Moon used eighth-inch steel aircraft cable to make snares to catch bears on Evans, Bainbridge and Chenega islands.
Acting on the tip from biologists, state and federal law officers caught Yi, Ro and Moon with a cooler full of gall bladders and bear legs.
Investigators said at the time they used the boat's onboard Global Positioning System device for clues. They backtracked to points programmed into the device and found dead bears in various stages of decay.
According to the indictment, the men were found with 11 black bear legs, at least four gall bladders and one head on Sept. 15, 2002. Five days later, authorities seized three more gall bladders and three legs at Yi's home and a leg at Ro's home.
They are accused of holding the gall bladders for shipment and sale in Korea.