WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury has returned a 22-count indictment against a Rockville company and its supplier, who are accused of smuggling more than 18,000 pounds of caviar into the country over a four-year period.
The indictment said U.S. Caviar & Caviar in Rockville and Kenfood Trading LLC imported 18,720 pounds of caviar from the United Arab Emirates in 1998 and then passed it off as prime Russian caviar for sale here.
U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said Thursday that it was the first time she could recall a caviar conspiracy case in Maryland, where such cases more often involve the misbranding of crab meat.
“Crab meat was more the norm for Maryland,” Battaglia said. “Obviously, I expect once this case is made public, people will be prone to wonder if they’re getting [prime caviar]. You never know if the cases will replicate themselves.”
Calls seeking comment from the caviar company Thursday were not returned. Kenfood and its president could not be located for comment.
The prosecutor’s office said the indictment covered the period between February 1995 and May 1999. It charged that during that time, Hossein Lolavar and Faye Briggs of U.S. Caviar & Caviar and Ken Noroozi of Kenfood forged wildlife documents and caviar labels, and used false double invoices to avoid payment of a customs tax.
A caviar company employee was told to “fill out blank Russian health certificates, to stamp them with a rubber stamp which was fabricated … to resemble an actual Russian seal, and to forge the signature of a Russian health inspector,” the indictment stated.
Company president Lolavar and sales manager Briggs were also charged with mail fraud for reportedly substituting American paddlefish and hackleback for Russian caviar. As part of this scheme, the indictment claimed, they sold smuggled and misbranded caviar to customers like American Airlines, Fresh Fields and Sutton Place Gourmet.
The defendants face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 criminal fine for each felony count, according to prosecutors, and U.S. Caviar & Caviar faces a maximum fine of $500,000 for each count.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is also seeking forfeiture of the caviar they said was unlawfully imported or its retail market value.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard A. Udell and Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Warren Hamel presented the case to the grand jury.