ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage man convicted of trafficking wildlife parts for use in traditional Asian medicines was sentenced Tuesday to four years probation and fined $15,000.
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In a plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors, Yon Taik Chung, 63, owner of Lotte Health International, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of violating the Lacey Act by selling seal penis bones - also called oosiks - and black bear gall bladders to a store in Massachusetts for about $6,200.
As part of his plea agreement, Chung said he knowingly violated the law by acting as the middleman in 2004 and 2005.
Federal prosecutors say the oosiks, which fetch about $100 apiece, are used as an aphrodisiac in some Asian medicinal practices.
Defense attorney Brent Cole said Chung, who is not fluent in English, understood he was pleading guilty to two felony counts and he was sorry about his actions.
"The cultural differences really are a part of the problem," Cole said. "He has been upright, candid, and has sought to accept responsibility for everything that's going on in this. We were willing to do what the government requested because he's sorry."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Steward said the penalties reached under the plea agreement were sufficient to deter Chung from engaging in similar acts in the future.
Steward said the government will not pursue the same charges against Chung's downtown business, a Korean gift shop now operating under the name Lotte Market.
"The corporation dissolved shortly after it was charged, so there was nothing left to charge," Steward said.
U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline accepted the plea and adhered to the sentencing agreement between Chung and the government, saying Chung needed to be aware that to violate his probation would mean a prison sentence.
"You cannot isolate yourself from the community and ignore the laws of the land," he said.
Speaking through his translator, Chung said he was sorry for his actions, and that he was ready to face the consequences and move on with his life.
"I did something wrong and I am guilty, and I apologize to everyone around me for that," Chung said.
Also under the agreement, Chung was required to print an article in a Korean newspaper apologizing for his actions and explaining why they were wrong, and he signed away his right to an appeal.
The charges carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The man who sold Chung the parts, Michael Richard Zacharof, 50, pleaded guilty in June to a misdemeanor violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for selling about 100 oosiks to Chung in 2005.
Zacharof co-signed an agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2000 to help manage northern fur seals as the former president of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government.
Zacharof faces up to one year in prison and a $20,000 fine when he is sentenced this fall.
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