JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Three Colorado men pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally trafficking in paddlefish caviar after being caught in an undercover operation in the Warsaw, Mo., area.
In support of Missouri’s paddlefish conservation efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation conducted a covert investigation, “Operation Roadhouse,” centered on an area known as the Roadhouse in Warsaw. As part of the covert operation, state and federal officers operated a paddlefish snagging business. Covert officers also sold paddlefish to people who were interested in buying them.
Arkadiy Lvovskiy, 54, of Aurora, Colo., and Dmitri Elitchev, 49, of Centennial, Colo., pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Matt J. Whitworth to participating in a conspiracy to illegally traffic in paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in violation of the Lacey Act. Artour Magdessian, 48, of Lone Tree, Colo., pleaded guilty to trafficking in paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in violation of the Lacey Act.
By pleading guilty, Lvovskiy and Elitchev admitted that in April 2011 they traveled to Warsaw, where they illegally purchased five female paddlefish and a container of paddlefish eggs. They processed the eggs from all of those paddlefish into caviar and transported them from Missouri to Colorado. Lvovskiy and Elitchev further admitted that they returned to Warsaw, in March 2012 and purchased eight more female paddlefish. As they had in 2011, they processed the eggs into caviar and transported them from Missouri to Colorado.
Lvovskiy, Elitchev, and Magdessian further admitted that they traveled to Warsaw in April 2012 with co-defendant Felix Baravik, 50, of Aurora, Colo. While in Warsaw, the men befriended covert Fish and Wildlife Service agents who were posing as fishermen staying in the same area. The defendants purchased two female paddlefish from the covert agents. The defendants also purchased three more female paddlefish from other sources and harvested paddlefish in excess of the Missouri take and possession limits. The defendants processed the eggs from all of those paddlefish into caviar and transported them from Missouri to Colorado.
“Federal law protects our natural resources, such as Missouri’s paddlefish, which have been over-fished until their population has suffered a steep decline,” said Western District U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson. “We take seriously the environmental protections provided by federal and state laws, and will investigate and prosecute those who violate them.”
The retail value of the paddlefish caviar at issue in this case is estimated to be between $30,000 and $50,000.
Under federal statutes, the men are each subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of pre-sentence investigations by the United States Probation Office.