An owner of a Richland Chinese restaurant is accused of illegally buying bear gall bladders, pheasants and deer from undercover game officers during a 11/2-year sting operation.
Tai Woan Ng negotiated the purchase of meat and fish outside the back door of the Golden Palace, according to court documents. Though she never requested documentation, receipts or licenses, she allegedly did ask the sellers not to tell anyone of their dealings.
Ng, 52, was charged this week in Benton County Superior Court with one felony count of second-degree unlawful trafficking in fish, shellfish or wildlife, and three gross misdemeanor counts of the same charge.
She is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 30. A summons notifying her of the charges and hearing date was sent to a Portland address, court records show.
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Ng, reached Friday at the restaurant, referred questions to her son, who did not return the Herald's call.
An Aug. 13 inspection by the Benton Franklin Health District -- the most recent according to their website -- resulted in a score of 28 out of 418. A perfect score is zero.
The four violations handed out to the 1185 George Washington Way restaurant had nothing to do with getting food from approved sources.
Yet, prosecutors say Ng regularly bought fish and wildlife from strangers without verifying from where it came.
Officers with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife got a tip in early 2011 that identified Golden Palace as a restaurant involved in unlawful trafficking, Deputy Prosecutor Brendan Siefken wrote in court documents.
Acting on the tip, two undercover state officers approached the restaurant's back door on Jan. 13, 2011, and called out. A man opened the door and, upon hearing the visitors had some birds to sell, invited them inside where he introduced them to Ng, documents said.
The man was identified as Kwok W. Chan, an owner and reportedly Ng's husband. He has not been charged in this case.
Ng then followed the men out to their truck to look at the birds, which included seven ducks and three pheasants. She reportedly said she didn't want the ducks, but was interested in the pheasants and asked about the price.
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, court 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.
"Ms. Ng admitted that she knew they were illegal and she didn't want to get into trouble either," Siefken wrote.
The officers said they normally get $100 per gall bladder and, after negotiations with Ng, sold her six bear gall bladders and three pheasants for $110 total, documents said. Ng carried the goods into the restaurant with the men in tow and had Chan get $110 cash out of his wallet for payment.
"Before the officers left, Ms. Ng again asked the officers not to tell anyone," Siefken said.
An undercover officer on Feb. 9, 2011, contacted Ng at the restaurant with some more birds to sell. He showed her three mallard ducks in his truck, but she "advised that ducks are a lot of work to get the meat off and that she wanted big birds," court documents said. "She paid the officer a total of $5 for the three ducks and asked if he could get more 'colored chickens.' The officer advised that he could probably get more."
Prosecutors said the officers went back on June 16, 2011, and negotiated the sale of two quarters of deer for $20.
On Oct. 31, 2011, Ng bought four frozen, whole Chinese pheasants for $10, documents said. Seven months later, six pheasants and nine rockfish went for a total of $30 after the officers met Ng at the restaurant's back door one night. And on Aug. 16, she allegedly bought six rockfish and one steelhead for $25.
The final sale noted in Siefken's court document was late morning Sept. 11, when Ng negotiated for six pheasants at $15 total.
"At no time during the transactions with the undercover officers did (Ng) ask for any documentation, receipts, licenses or invoices for the fish and wildlife that was purchased," Siefken said.
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 Health District requires all food establishments to use fish that's been legally harvested or otherwise approved for service.
"Game animals such as deer, elk, rabbit, squirrel or snakes may not be served unless they are commercially raised for food and inspected by the Department of Agriculture," the Health District says.
If the food doesn't come from an approved source with appropriate preparation in a facility, it must be thrown away.
Golden Palace first was issued a business license in August 1994. The state Department of Revenue website Friday showed its status as active.
The four violations from the Benton Franklin Health District last summer were under categories that involve ensuring that all food workers have current food safety training, improper hand washing and issues with the washing of utensils and equipment and their storage away from sources of contamination.
That inspection took place three days before the undercover state officers allegedly sold some fish to the restaurant.