|Sent on:||Sunday, June 10, 2012 9:27 PM|
Pet store manager accused of selling illegal, invasive fish species
Published: Friday, June 08, 2012
By J. Patrick Pepper
The Pet Station in Dearborn Heights was shut down in April and authorities charged the owner with animal cruelty. Now, another manager from the store is facing more charges of selling illegal fish species to a federal, undercover agent.
DEARBORN HEIGHTS — Federal authorities this week alleged even more fishy business at the Pet Station, this time charging a manager with selling invasive fish species’.
In a criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services agent alleges Ash Khatib, a manager at the south Dearborn Heights pet store, provided him with walking catfish and connected him with a dealer of snakehead fish.
Both species are considered invasive to the United States and share a unique trait — they can wriggle on land for up to a quarter-mile, bouncing from body of water to body of water, provided they stay moist. Natives of southeast Asia, the fish are known for their voracious appetites and are without natural predators in North America.
The investigation began in June 2010 with a tip from a confidential informant. According to the complaint, the informant purchased two walking catfish at Pet Station over the previous year for about $14 a piece.
The agent went to Pet Station a few days later and asked about purchasing one of the whiskered ichthyoids. A store employee identified only as Mike allegedly told the agent he had one large walking catfish for $79.99 and that he could order smaller ones for $14.99. A few days later the agent returned to the store and met with Khatib, a Dearborn Heights resident, about buying the walking catfish. A few days later, Khatib sold one to the agent for $15.89, according to the complaint.
The agent returned to the store the next month to ask about snakeheads. Khatib said he did not stock the fish because “selling snakehead fish was like selling drugs because it was illegal.” However, the agent said, Khatib offered to hook him up with someone who could help.
A couple weeks later, the agent went to Pet Station for a meeting with the snakehead dealer, who introduced himself as “Tiny.” Tiny confirmed he had snakeheads and gave the agent his phone number. Later that day, the agent met Tiny at his house in Wayne.
Tiny, who was eventually revealed to be Daniel Thacker, was well aware of the criminal implications of selling the fish, the agent said. He talked about the risk of “bringing them in” and said he could be fined $10,000 for each fish if caught. The agent ended up buying one redline snakehead for $100 cash.
The agent then reviewed customs declarations, discovering that an Ohio fish importer had imported 20 walking catfish from a shipper in Indonesia, with a customer referred to as “DEARBN,” the customer name for Pet Station, according to import records.
The agent then cross-referenced injurious species permits to see if Pet Station had one; it didn’t.
In March of last year, the agent called Thacker and said he had a friend who was interested in a snakehead after seeing his redline. Thacker said he would sell her one on the condition the agent vouched for her. In April, the agent called Thacker and said his friend was in town and arranged a meeting. The “friend” was also an undercover agent and struck a deal to buy nine Ocellated snakeheads for $450. According to the complaint, Thacker even threw an extra snakehead for free because the agent who arranged the meeting was a “good customer.”
Following a subsequent undercover buy, USFW agents obtained a search warrant and raided Thacker’s house. Thacker agreed to talk and said that he was selling the fish for Khatib, because Khatib didn’t want them in his store.
According to the complaint, Khatib later confirmed Thacker’s account when investigators paid him a house call.
The criminal charges against Khatib are just the latest to be tied to Pet Station in recent months. Stemming from an animal cruelty investigation, authorities raided the store in April and seized more than 100 animals. Ramzi Daklallah, the now former owner, faces one charge of felony animal cruelty and dozens more for violating state pet store regulations.
J. Patrick Pepper can be reached at[masked] or at [address removed].