Authorities scanned live endangered fish allegedly smuggled from Vietnam and detected internal microchip numbers 182821222 and 1828021031, according to court papers.
An affidavit says those numbers corresponded with numbers written on black plastic bags which contained the popular aquarium fish Asian bonytongue. The price of the fish in Vietnam is about $400. In the United States, the fish can be sold for $1,000 to $3,000.
Click here to read the affidavit.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent said the chip, called a Passive Integrated Transponder Tag, contains numbers "significant in the commercial trade of species."
The numbers are used to identify specific specimen of species, the agent says, which correspond "to a Certificate of Authenticity which accompanies the specimen, to confirm the fish's identity and breeding, which is then used to establish the fair market price for the fish."
Bich Phuong Truong Phan of Charlotte was charged with violating the Endangered Species Act by attempting to import the two fish inside bottles of fish sauce.
Phan appeared in court on Wednesday. The smuggling charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Savage told the federal magistrate during the hearing that Phan's two brothers operate pet stores, one in Charlotte, the other in Atlanta.
- Gary L. Wright, Doug Miller