SAN DIEGO (CN) — A San Diego jury Tuesday heard closing arguments in a wildlife smuggling trial where the accused trafficker claims she didn’t know her boyfriend was doing anything illegal.
Wei Wei Wang claims she didn’t know her boyfriend Alan Ren had stuffed her pink and gray suitcases full of rare and endangered sea creatures when they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at the San Ysidro Point of Entry in February 2016.
Ren pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to smuggle 83 pounds of black abalone and 172 pounds of sea cucumber. He faced decades in prison but was sentenced this month to only 10 months by U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino, who is also presiding over Wang’s trial.
Ren also was ordered to pay $16,600 in restitution to the Mexican government for smuggling the protected wildlife.
Wang too faces decades in prison if convicted of conspiracy, unlawful importation of wildlife, smuggling and importing wildlife illegally.
In closing arguments Tuesday, Deputy U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson said it was obvious Wang was in on the conspiracy with her boyfriend because her suitcases, with name tags on them, were used to bring the seafood into the United States.
Neither Ren nor Wang declared the seafood when asked if they were bringing anything across the border, Pierson said. Were they bringing seafood across legally they would have packed it in coolers, not stuffed it in black trash bags in suitcases covered by blankets in the back of their minivan. “It’s simply not a coincidence,” Pierson said.
“They were trying to capitalize quickly by coming in with the rarest of the rare. It’s simply not how people do legitimate business.”
Pierson said “not a single black abalone was legally harvested” in Mexico in 2016 and that only four permits were issued to bring them into the United States that year. Those permits were issued for scientific purposes to study the sustainability of the species, not to be sold as seafood, Pierson said.
Wang should have known her boyfriend was conducting illegal business transactions, Pierson said, because they met one seafood seller at a Walmart parking lot at night to make a deal, though they didn’t go through with it.
“She had a stake in the action; that’s why she was there that night,” Pierson said.
The couple ran their business out of their house in Tijuana and their landlord received complaints about the strong seafood smell, Pierson said.
“They were in this together,” the prosecutor said.
Ren owns Chinese restaurants in New York.
But Wang’s attorney Chandra Peterson said Ren was the one who loaded the van full of hundreds of pounds of seafood, while “Ms. Wang was along for the ride.”
Peterson said Wang had no reason to believe her boyfriend was doing anything illegal, as he made many legal business deals Wang witnessed.
A witness who testified about her business relationship with Ren didn’t even know who Wang was, Peterson said, and referred to her as “the woman who was with Mr. Ren.”
“The government has tried very hard to make this case about Ms. Wang, but the evidence does not have to do with Ms. Wang,” Peterson said. He said checks were written out to and cashed by Ren, who dealt with his clients over the phone.
Peterson said Wang simply tagged along on her “entrepreneur boyfriend’s” business trips.
“They’re asking you to find Ms. Wang guilty for all the crimes Mr. Ren committed,” Peterson said.
The jury is deliberating.