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Contraband
09/19/2011

HSI investigation leads to the arrest of shop owners selling illegal pesticides in New York City

NEW YORK — Twelve individuals were arrested for the illegal distribution and sale of unregistered and misbranded pesticides sold out of multiple locations in Manhattan, to include Chinatown.  These charges stem from an investigation led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with the assistance of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).

"The smuggling of toxic, tainted and hazardous products threatens the health and safety of consumers who unwittingly purchase and use them," said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New York.  "The manufacture, illegal importation, marketing, distribution and sale of these products amount to theft and threaten the economic security of the United States.  HSI maintains a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the illegal importation of smuggled goods."

As a result of this investigation, a shop owner and one supplier of the illegal pesticides were charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, and 10 other retail sellers were charged by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.

"The sale of unregistered chemical products is illegal and puts people's health, particularly young children, at risk," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator of the EPA.  "Last week's 12 arrests, inspections, and outreach to the local community about the dangers of unregistered pest control chemicals, will help keep our neighborhoods safe, and illegal products off the streets."

"As alleged, these defendants were literally peddling poison to an unwitting public, putting the health and safety of their customers and their families in jeopardy," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Southern District of New York.  "As a result of this unprecedented collaborative law enforcement effort, tremendous quantities of these highly toxic and potentially lethal chemicals have been confiscated, and the people allegedly responsible for creating this public health risk will be punished."

"The sale of illegal pesticides poses a direct threat to the health and safety of our community," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. "In the cases charged by our office, that threat was particularly imminent in the Chinatown neighborhood.  Some of these illegal products look and smell like cookie crumbs, making them dangerously tempting to children.  Some of the other products are so toxic that one small vial can kill an adult male.  It is my hope that our collective criminal and civil law enforcement actions will prevent future injury or death."

The pesticides were particularly dangerous because their packaging and appearance could lead them to be mistaken for cookies or cough medicine.  The pesticides were not registered by the EPA and were missing required label warnings, so consumers had no way of knowing how dangerous the products were or how best to protect themselves from harmful exposure.  In fact, one woman accidentally ingested one of the pesticides, believing it to be medicine, and was hospitalized as a result.

In addition to the twelve arrests and pursuant to court-ordered search warrants, federal and state law enforcement agents searched 14 locations and seized more than 6,000 packages of pesticides containing high levels of toxic chemicals that were not approved for commercial sale in the United States.  Also, as part of a coordinated citywide inspection of 47 businesses in various neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, EPA and DEC civil inspectors seized 350 additional unregistered pesticide products, of 16 different varieties, many with high levels of toxicity.

According to the complaints, in December 2010, an individual became gravely ill after ingesting a pesticide she mistook for medicine.  Subsequent investigation revealed the pesticide, a small vial of blue-green liquid labeled primarily in Chinese with the words, "The Cat Be Unemployed," was being sold illegally in the Chinatown section of Manhattan.  The pesticide was neither registered by the EPA nor was it properly labeled, as required by both state and federal law.  The investigation further revealed that the product contained almost 61 times the amount of brodifacoum – a rodenticide – than is allowed by the EPA.  Additionally, brodifacoum is not approved for direct consumer use – it may only be used by licensed professionals.  In response to the poisoning, various law enforcement agencies began a joint undercover investigation of the illegal sale of toxic pesticides in and around New York City.  The multi-agency criminal investigation revealed at least a dozen unregistered and misbranded pesticide products, some with extremely high levels of toxicity, being sold by more than a dozen vendors in and around Manhattan's Chinatown.

In the two federal complaints, Chen Yan Huang and Jai Ping Chen are alleged to have distributed and sold more than 4,600 individual packages of unregistered and misbranded pesticide products to undercover agents on multiple occasions between May and August 2011.  As detailed in the complaints, many of the pesticide packages they sold misrepresented the amount of the chemical the pesticide contained, none contained the required ingredient statement, and none had been approved by the EPA for commercial sale.  Huang owns a store in the Chinatown area of Manhattan that illegally sold the pesticides, some of which were kept concealed from public view, others of which were displayed on the counter.  During one meeting, Huang told undercover agents he could provide as many packages of pesticides as they wanted.  During a search of Huang's store on Sept. 14, 2011, agents found more than 800 packages of unregistered pesticides.  Chen, a delivery driver, made multiple deliveries of pesticides to at least two locations in Manhattan, including Huang's store. Agents also found thousands of packages of pesticides in Chen's home on Sept. 14.

The operation involved purchases of the following dangerous chemicals:

Bromadiolone and Brofidacoum, both "restricted use" chemicals, which are active ingredients in rodenticides, or pesticides used to kill rodents.  They are both highly toxic and are therefore not approved for use by the general public, nor may either be in products intended for consumer or urban use.

Sodium Fluoroacetate, also highly toxic, is a "restricted use" chemical, that is only approved for use to protect livestock from coyotes.  It can only be used by a licensed professional.

Fipronil is an active ingredient in insecticides.  The products sold to undercover agents had significantly higher levels of fipronil than allowed by the EPA. 

The products provided to undercover agents by Huang and Chen contained high levels of Brofidacoum and Fipronil, and were sold under various names, including "Fuzhou Control Termite Company - Cockroachkiller Bait" and "Mie Zhang Qing."

Federal charges have been filed against:

  • Jai Ping Chen, 43, of Flushing, N.Y., is charged with two counts of distributing unregistered pesticides, two counts of distributing misbranded pesticides and one count of conspiracy to violate the federal laws regulating the distribution and sale of pesticides.  Each count carries a maximum sentence of one year, and a maximum fine of $25,000.
  • Chen Yan Huang, 56, of New York, is charged with four counts of distributing unregistered pesticides, four counts of distributing misbranded pesticides and one count of conspiracy to violate the federal laws regulating the distribution and sale of pesticides.  Each count carries a maximum sentence of one year, and a maximum fine of $25,000.

State charges have been filed against:

  • Xue H. Chen, 53, of New York, is charged with 38 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide; a class U misdemeanor.
  • Bi Ying Jiang, 51, of New York, is charged with 217 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide, three counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an adulterated and misbranded pesticide; a class U misdemeanor, and one count of  reckless endangerment in the second degree; a class A misdemeanor.
  • Jin Rong Jiang, 34, of New York, is charged with 65 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide; a class U misdemeanor.
  • Xiu Hua Lin, 49, of New York, is charged with 262 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide; a class U misdemeanor, 229 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an adulterated and misbranded pesticide; a class U misdemeanor.
  • Yao Lzu, 56, of Queens, is charged with 233 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide; a class U misdemeanor.
  • Liu Wen Sheng, 47, of New York, is charged with 522 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide; a class U misdemeanor, 102 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an adulterated and misbranded pesticide; a class U misdemeanor, and one count of reckless endangerment in the second degree; a class A misdemeanor.
  • Qi Lian Tan, 43, of Brooklyn, is charged with 145 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide; a class U misdemeanor.
  • Jinwen Wang, 55, of New York, is charged with 350 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide; a class U misdemeanor, 122 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an adulterated and misbranded pesticide; a class U misdemeanor, and one count of reckless endangerment in the second degree; a class A misdemeanor.
  • Shi J. Wu, 45, of Brooklyn, is charged with 131 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide; a class U misdemeanor.
  • Ji Hui Yang, 52, of New York, is charged with 404 counts of unlawful distribution, sale, offer for sale and use of an unregistered pesticide; a class U misdemeanor.