A Virginia man pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in Asheville to illegally selling black bear gall bladders and other parts from western North Carolina.
Vu Johnnie Nguyen of Virginia Beach, Va., entered the plea after a year-long investigation by federal and state agents. Bear gall bladders and paws are used in Asian traditional medicine.
“The abundance of American black bears in western North Carolina mountains often attracts the attention of traffickers looking for a steady source of supply of bear parts to satisfy the ever growing demand in domestic and foreign black markets,” said U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the state’s western district.
An estimated 20,000 black bears roam North Carolina, with the biggest populations in the western and eastern ends of the state. They’re commonly seen in and around Asheville, where Nguyen appeared in court Monday.
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Nguyen pleaded guilty to a felony charge under the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to transport or sell wildlife taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of state law. North Carolina law makes it illegal to possess for sale or buy any bear or bear parts.
Court documents say Nguyen was involved in the sale, purchase and intent to sell 18 bear gall bladders, 16 claws, two paws and about 50 pounds of bear meat in 2014. He also admitted illegally transporting bear parts three times.
Nguyen faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As part of the agreement, he agreed to publish an apology.