Idaho businessman gets jail, hefty fine for illegal animal sales

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Yan “Bo” Fong, right, was sentenced for purchasing illegallykilled wildlife from Montana in Fifth Judicial District Court May 31. Also pictured is Fong’s attorney, Brent Flowers. Casey S. Elliott photo

A former Idaho restaurateur will spend just over three months in jail and be required to pay a $25,000 total fine for buying illegal game animals and shipping the parts across state lines for sale.

Yan “Bo” Fong of Pocatello, Idaho, was handed a mostly suspended sentence on felony charges of unlawful sale of a game animal and unlawful possession, shipping, or transportation of a game or fur-bearing animal (attempt) in Fifth Judicial District Court May 31. Judge Luke Berger sentenced him to a total of 10 years in the Department of Corrections, with all but 100 days jail time suspended, a $25,000 fine, court fees, and forfeiture of all hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for six years in Montana and 46 other states.

Fong pleaded guilty to the two charges last year as part of a plea deal with the prosecution. He admitted to buying a number of animals and parts – such as black bear (gallbladders, paws and carcasses), mountain lions, mule deer, elk, and bobcats – from an undercover Fish, Wildlife and Parks investigator in 2017 and 2018. The investigator highlighted three separate dates when the sales took place at a travel plaza outside Dillon.

Cases in California and Idaho are pending, which were investigated around the same time of the Montana case. Fong faces 22 felony and 75 misdemeanor charges in Idaho, and three felony and 15 misdemeanor charges in California for similar conduct.

FWP criminal investigator Benjamin Womelsdorf told the court an Idaho undercover investigator contacted him about Fong, and traveled to Montana with Fong to introduce them. Womelsdorf sold Fong animal carcasses and parts, and each transaction was recorded and surveilled by agents.

Womelsdorf said bear gallbladders can sell for roughly $1,500 per ounce in China, and he sold them to Fong for between $140- $200 per gallbladder. He testified that he sold Fong 52 individual wildlife carcasses or parts for a total of $3,800 between all three sales. The parts sold were obtained from other cases’ evidence, seized from illegal hunts or were killed as part of prior undercover hunts. Fong told Womelsdorf he was purchasing the parts for his own use, and for employees, tour guides and outfitters.

Womelsdorf said none of the wildlife sold to Fong in Montana was able to be traced to future sales, but parts from the Idaho sales were DNA matched to sales in California.

CJ Liang, Fong’s wife, testified Fong does not understand English very well and may not have completely understood what was going on with the sales. She noted the couple’s restaurant in Pocatello closed partially from COVID-19 shutdowns, and partially from customers and employees who left after the charges were first announced in the case. She said they never served any of the purchased items to customers; the parts were given away to employees, tour guides and outfitters who worked with them, and Fong used them to help with his asthma.

“We’re very sorry about what happened and I guess, starting from now on, we will try to do our best to serve the community,” she said. “I know he will not do any illegal stuff again.”

Assistant Attorney General Daniel Guzynski argued for a total five-year prison sentence and $15,000 fine to Berger.

“Even though nobody was killed, and no child was hurt, this case hits home to so many in Montana, and I think it requires a strong sentence,” he said, adding many people chose to live in Montana because of the abundant outdoor recreational opportunities and wildlife. “It takes away who we are as a people when somebody traffics our wildlife. Nothing says there has to be elk in our hills, or bears in our mountains, or fish in our creeks. It can all be taken from us, and it was taken from us before from hunters at the turn of the 19th century. Our game, our wildlife was decimated across this country.”

Guzynski recognized poachers generally do not receive prison time for these offenses, but he felt it was warranted in Fong’s case.

“Mr. Fong has had all the benefits of this country, being able to be a successful businessman, being able to own multiple restaurants, being able to have what appears to be a loving family. But it wasn’t enough, your honor,” he said. “It was greed that propelled Mr. Fong’s actions.”

Womelsdorf said he thought the sentencing recommendation appropriate, noting poaching impacts legal hunting activity by reducing the number of animals available and affects wildlife management in the state overall.

“There’s no wildlife biologist on the planet that can plan for the commercialization of our wildlife,” he said. “Through this commercialization, it can easily lead to the endangerment or extinction of wildlife species.”

Womelsdorf added illegal hunting and sales can contribute to the spread of zoonotic disease between animals and humans, as has happened with the coronavirus pandemic.

Fong’s attorney, Brent Flowers, argued for a probationary sentence, pointing out that other defendants in similar cases did not receive jail time.

“I think the long and the short of it is, this is a fish and game violation, and it warrants no prison time,” he said.

Flowers noted no animals were specifically killed for Fong as part of this investigation, Fong has no criminal history, and he thought the stiff sentence sought by the state was intended to “send a message.”

“It seems obvious his life is destroyed at this point in time with the shame of the charges and the financial loss brought about by the closing of his business,” he said. “I think the state’s recommendation would result in the total destruction of Mr. Fong. That’s in addition to whatever is going to happen to him in California and in Idaho.”

Fong apologized to the court through a Cantonese interpreter, and accepted whatever punishment it determined was suitable.

Prior to sentencing, Berger told Fong he considered all points brought up by both sides, and his sentence was a middle ground between the recommendations.

“You committed a crime – you committed multiple crimes,” he said. “I think that you’ve got some financial reasons that you did it. If you suffer financially from this, then that’s what’s going to happen,” he said, adding he believed some additional level of punishment is warranted.

Berger went with a higher fine in light of the potential profit that can be made from the trafficked wildlife, and noted Fong will have the felonies on his record, along with whatever sentences are handed down in Idaho and California.

“Mr. Fong, your wife sat up here and told me you were never going to do anything illegal again. You’ve got nine years and 265 days sitting out there. If you commit any more fishing, hunting or trapping violations, Mr. Guzynski will have a much easier time next time asking me for a sentence,” Berger added.