Charges against a father-son partnership for allegedly smuggling more than $17 million worth of sea cucumbers to the US and exporting them to Asia sheds light on a growing and lucrative illegal cross-border trade, the AP reports. David Mayorquin and his father, Ramon Torres Mayorquin, are accused of a scheme to buy the illegally harvested animals from poachers in Mexico, pay for them under fake names, and underestimate their weight and value to inspectors at the border. They allegedly shipped the product to Asia, where they are delicacies in Chinese dishes, prized for medicinal value, and considered an aphrodisiac. Authorities say they sell for $300 to $500 a kilogram in Asia, helping explain the draw for poachers and smugglers.
Border inspectors have spotted smuggled Mexican sea cucumbers for years, but the charges against the Mayorquins are striking for the multi-ton shipments. David Mayorquin allegedly bought $13 million worth of sea cucumbers, knowing they were harvested without a permit or out of season, and they sold for $17.5 million. Investigators found emails that allegedly show the family communicating with others about the illegal purchases, Homeland Security Investigations said. The defendants also bribed Mexican officials, prosecutors say. One email listed in the indictment shows Marroquin being asked to contribute $32,000 for payoffs. Harvesting sea cucumbers is permitted in the US and many parts of the world, but with limited quantities and only during high season. (Read more sea cucumber stories.)