Restaurant owner pleads innocent to buying bear gall bladders, game animals

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 31, 2013 

The owner of a Richland Chinese restaurant pleaded innocent Wednesday to allegations she illegally bought bear gall bladders and game animals from undercover officers.

Tai Woan Ng, 52, faces trial April 8 in Benton County Superior Court.

She is charged with one felony count of second-degree unlawful trafficking in fish, shellfish or wildlife, and three gross misdemeanor counts of the same charge.

Ng is represented by Raymond Hui of Richland. She stood with her lawyer close to the judge's bench Wednesday so that the Cantonese interpreter, Alan Lai, could speak to Ng over a speakerphone.

"I understand," Ng replied after Judge Cameron Mitchell read her rights.

Prosecutors allege that Ng negotiated the purchase of meat and fish outside the back door of the Golden Palace during a 1 1/2-year sting operation.

Though she never requested documentation, receipts or licenses to verify where it came from, she did ask the sellers not to tell anyone of their dealings, court documents said.

Deputy Prosecutor Brendan Siefken, who filed the charges, said it is not clear if the purchases were for the 1185 George Washington Way restaurant or for personal use.

The investigation by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife reportedly did not look into that.

The department got a tip in early 2011 that identified the Golden Palace as a restaurant involved in unlawful trafficking.

Undercover state officers first approached the restaurant's back door Jan. 13, 2011, and were introduced to Ng. She followed the men out to their truck to look at their ducks and pheasants.

The officers quoted her $10, then added that they had bear gall bladders in a cooler and retrieved one so Ng could check it out, documents said. She asked if they were from a bear and was told yes, but the undercover officers added they were illegal and they didn't want to get in trouble with police.

Ng allegedly added that she didn't want to get into trouble either.

The normal take for a gall bladder is $100, the officers told Ng, but after negotiations, she bought six bear gall bladders and three pheasants for $110 total, Siefken wrote in court documents. She carried the goods into the restaurant and had her husband give the men cash from his wallet, documents said.

Over the ensuing months, Ng allegedly bought three mallard ducks, two quarters of deer, four frozen Chinese pheasants, 12 pheasants, 15 rockfish and one steelhead.

Pheasants and ducks are classified under the Washington Administrative Code as game birds, with ducks included under migratory waterfowl.

Rockfish and steelhead are food fish, and deer are classified as a game animal.

The Benton Franklin Health District requires all food establishments to use fish that has been legally harvested or otherwise approved for service, and says that game animals can't be served unless they're commercially raised for food and inspected by the Department of Agriculture.

Ng remains out of custody on her personal recognizance while awaiting trial.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com

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