Charges shed light on sea cucumber smuggling at US border

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Charges against a father-son partnership for allegedly smuggling more than $17 million worth of sea cucumbers to the United States and exporting them to Asia sheds light on a growing and lucrative illegal cross-border trade.

David Mayorquin and his father, Ramon Torres Mayorquin, are accused of a scheme to buy the illegally harvested animals from poachers in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, pay for them under fake names and underestimate their weight and value to inspectors at San Diego’s Otay Mesa border crossing, across from Tijuana, Mexico. From San Diego, they allegedly shipped the product to Asia, including China, where they are delicacies in Chinese dishes, prized for medicinal value and considered an aphrodisiac.

Border inspectors have spotted smuggled Mexican sea cucumbers for years, but the charges against the Mayorquins and their family business, Blessings Inc. of Tucson, Arizona, are striking for the multi-ton shipments. Authorities say they sell for $300 to $500 a kilogram in Asia, helping explain the draw for poachers and smugglers.

David Mayorquin, who is listed as the company’s chief executive officer in public records, allegedly bought $13 million worth of sea cucumbers, knowing that they were harvested without a permit or out of season, and they sold for $17.5 million. The indictment, filed Wednesday in federal court in San Diego, lists transactions from January 2010 to July 2012.

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U.S. Homeland Security Investigations launched an investigation around 2012 after company transactions raised suspicions, said James Plitt, deputy special agent in charge in San Diego. They examined financial and shipping records.

“These cases are very document-intensive,” Plitt said. “The volume of documents that have to pulled together and corroborated is significant.”

Investigators found emails that allegedly show the family communicating…

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