Manhattan Man Pleads Guilty In Federal Court To Distributing And Selling Illegal Pesticides In Chinatown

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that CHENG YAN HUANG, the owner of a store in the Chinatown area of Manhattan, pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to distributing and selling at least 2,010 packages of unregistered and unauthorized pesticides. HUANG was arrested and charged in September 2011 as part of a multi-agency illegal pesticides crackdown that resulted in 12 arrests and the seizure of thousands of packages of unregistered and misbranded pesticides that were sold out of multiple locations in Manhattan.

The pesticides were particularly dangerous because their packaging and appearance were deceptive and could have led them to being mistaken for cookies or cough medicine, and in one case, actually did. They were not registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (“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. Federal criminal charges were filed against HUANG and delivery driver, Jai Ping Chen, who pled guilty in February 2012. State criminal charges were filed against the 10 other individuals arrested.

HUANG pled guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Cheng Yan Huang literally peddled poison for profit, exposing untold numbers of people to extremely toxic chemicals in the process. The EPA’s rules governing the sale and distribution of pesticides are intended to protect the public and we will prosecute and punish those who jeopardize public safety for their own personal gain.”

According to the Complaints and Informations filed in Manhattan federal court:
In December 2010, an individual (the “Individual”) became gravely ill after ingesting a pesticide she mistook for medicine. Later investigation revealed that 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 not 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.

Between July and August 2011, HUANG and Chen distributed and sold more than 4,500 individual packages of unregistered and misbranded pesticide products to undercover agents. Many of the packages 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. The products provided to undercover agents by HUANG and Chen contained high levels of Brofidacoum and Fipronil, another active ingredient in insecticides, and were sold under various names, including “Fuzhou Control Termite Company – Cockroachkiller Bait” and “Mie Zhang Qing.” HUANG illegally sold the pesticides at his store in Chinatown, and Chen made multiple deliveries of pesticides to at least two locations in Manhattan, including HUANG’s store. 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 September 14, 2011, agents found over 800 packages of unregistered pesticides. That same day, agents also found thousands of packages of pesticides in Chen’s home.
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HUANG, 56, of New York, New York, faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison, and a maximum fine of $25,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Gorenstein on August 14, 2012, at 10:30 a.m.
Chen, 43, of Flushing, New York, faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison, and a maximum fine of $25,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck on June 11, 2012, at 2:00 p.m.