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'Operation Roadhouse' Cracks Down on Illegal Paddlefish Trafficking

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US - Three men from Colorado have pleaded guilty to illegally trafficking in paddlefish caviar after being caught in an undercover operation in the Warsaw, Missouri area. The men are now each subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000.

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In support of Missouri’s paddlefish conservation efforts, the US 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.

“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 Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

“We take seriously the environmental protections provided by federal and state laws, and will investigate and prosecute those who violate them.”

“The American paddlefish is an important cultural and sport-fishing resource to the people of Missouri. This investigation reaffirms our commitment to work with our state wildlife law enforcement partners to protect our nation's wildlife resources and hold violators accountable for their actions,” said Edward Grace, Deputy Chief for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.

“We appreciated the support and partnership of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Attorney's Office and the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section in helping to protect Missouri’s natural resources,” said Missouri Department of Conservation Protection Chief Larry Yamnitz.

Arkadiy Lvovskiy, 54, of Aurora, Colorado., and Dmitri Elitchev, 49, of Centennial, Colorado., pleaded guilty before US 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, Colorado., pleaded guilty to trafficking in paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in violation of the Lacey Act.

By pleading guilty yesterday, 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, Colorado. 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.

The retail value of the paddlefish caviar at issue in this case is estimated to be between $30,000 and $50,000.

Baravik pleaded guilty on August 19, 2014, to illegally trafficking in paddlefish in violation of the Lacey Act.