KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – On August 11, 2020, Randall F. Henry, 49, of Sunbright, Tennessee, plead guilty before Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley, Jr., to a felony count for falsifying records to conceal his illegal purchases of ginseng prior to the legal harvest season in 2015, violating the Lacey Act, a federal law enacted to combat the illegal trafficking of plants and wildlife.
The plea agreement will require Henry to pay restitution to the State of Tennessee and perform 100 hours of community service. Sentencing is set for December 8, 2020, before the Honorable Pamela L. Reeves, Chief U.S. District Court Judge. Henry faces a maximum term of imprisonment of up to five years.
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a slow-growing perennial species of plant found throughout the Northeast, Midwest, and Appalachian regions of the United States. Wild American Ginseng has substantial commercial value because there is a national and international market for its use as an ingredient in food, drinks, and traditional medicines. American Ginseng is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora of 1973 (CITES) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The purpose of CITES is to monitor, control, and restrict, as necessary, the international trade of certain wild plant and animal species in an effort to prevent adverse impacts and ensure continued existence of those species in their natural habitat.
In Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC) has responsibilities—under CITES, the ESA, and state law—to regulate and monitor the commercial harvest of wild American Ginseng and to ensure that populations are not imperiled. Accordingly, American Ginseng dealers are required to routinely submit paperwork to TDEC to document their ginseng purchases. Henry admitted to falsifying such documents in 2015 after purchasing American Ginseng before the opening of the established season. The USFWS investigates illegal ginseng trafficking associated with the international and interstate trade under the Lacey Act.
“The collaborative efforts of USFWS and the Department of Justice work to deter individuals from violating the laws and regulations designed to protect our natural ginseng resources, and from engaging in these types of illegal practices that threaten this resource. We will pursue any companies or persons who engage in similar unlawful conduct,” said J. Douglas Overbey, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
“Breaking up international and domestic smuggling rings that specifically exploit native plants and animals is a very important part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of law Enforcement’s work,” said FWS Acting Special Agent in Charge Stephen Clark.
This plea is the result of “Operation Green Gold,” a multi-jurisdiction investigation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) into the illegal harvesting, trafficking, and smuggling of American Ginseng.
The USFWS conducted the investigation in this case. The United States is represented in Court by Assistant United States Attorney Matthew T. Morris and Environmental Crimes Section Senior Trial Attorney Todd Gleason.