Feds sentence Powellhurst-Gilbert herb shop owner for selling illegal imports

Although the items have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, federal investigators say some of them were illegally imported …

The owner of this outer East Portland store on the edge of the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally importing and exporting “Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora”.

By David F. Ashton

On April 12, 53-year-old Agnes Yu, the co-owner of Wing Ming Herbs, a purveyor of Chinese homeopathic remedies, pleaded guilty and was sentenced for selling pangolin scales illegally imported into the United States, according to Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug.

Pangolins are small animals protected by a hard, scaly shell, but are valued for use in traditional Chinese medicine. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

What is a pangolin?
Pangolins are some of the most ancient small mammals – covered in scales – that live in Asia. For centuries, dried pangolin scales have been considered to possess medicinal value in the traditional Chinese and other Asian cultures, primarily to boost fertility; but also, traditionally, reducing excessive nervousness and hysterical crying in children, malarial fever, and deafness.

In June 2020, officials in China formally removed pangolin scales from its list of approved ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Investigation began in 2003
According to court documents, on December 7, 2003, U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel screened Yu and her husband at the U.S.-Canada border. The inspection recovered 10 dried sea snakes and 49 dried big-toothed sea snakes.

As a result of this encounter, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) sent the Yus a letter informing them about federal laws and regulations governing the import and export of wildlife into and out of the U.S., including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The charging document noted that on November 14, 2017, a U.S. Postal Inspection Service undercover Postal Inspector visited Wing Ming Herbs, located at 2738 SE 82nd Avenue of Roses, and spoke with Yu, in Chinese. The inspector covertly recorded and videotaped the meeting.

These are some of the fried Pangolin scales reportedly sold to an undercover USFW at the herb shop.

In the course of their transaction, Yu sold the inspector thirty grams of pangolin scales for approximately $165; and a lab later confirmed they actually were real pangolin scales.

Court documents also showed that Yu was aware of U.S. and foreign restrictions on the import, export, and sale of CITES-listed plants and wildlife, but did not comply with those restrictions; she repeatedly exported American ginseng to customers in China in 2017 and 2018 without first getting a valid CITES certificate.

On July 24, 2018, a USFW undercover agent went to Wing Ming Herbs and purchased CITES-protected items, including: giant sea horses, and fourteen shark fins, four of which originated from scalloped hammerhead sharks.

In another transaction, USFW agents reportedly purchased ground Asian elephant ivory, giant sea horses, and shark fins at the store.

USFW agents then served a search warrant at the shop and seized:

  • Additional pangolin scales,
  • Ground Asian elephant ivory,
  • Eleven penises and fifteen gall bladders of red deer, and,
  • A giant devil ray.


At the time, Yu agreed to abandon all the wildlife seized in the search warrant, which included thousands of additional wildlife items, court papers said.

On March 22, 2021, Yu was charged by criminal information with recklessly selling pangolin illegally imported into the U.S. in violation of CITES; and was sentenced to three years’ federal probation and a $5,000 fine.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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