Columbus man facing fish trafficking charges sentenced to probation

Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 10:50 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - We have new details on a case involving a Columbus businessman charged with fish trafficking in Mobile, Alabama.

News Leader 9 has obtained court documents detailing the local grocery store owner’s arrest and how he has avoided prison.

Cuong Duc Bui - who also goes by Steve - was a grocery store owner in Columbus when officials says he illegally trafficked some of the fish he sold across state lines. The court documents in my hand outline why Bui can no longer work in the seafood industry.

In 2018, Cuong Duc Bui was the owner of S Mart grocery store on Manchester Expressway in Columbus...selling various items including seafood. But officials say Bui did not have a license to run the business and illegally obtained some of the fish sold at his store.

Over a four-month period, Bui also admitted to avoiding health and safety inspections of the fish.

In June, Bui plead guilty to fish trafficking charges admitting to trafficking $14,000 dollars worth of red snapper from someone posing as a fisherman in Mobile.

“The illicit fish represented approximately 2,250 pounds of red snapper and 150 pounds of king mackerel,” said Christopher Ekman, Chief Deputy Clerk for U.S. District Court, Alabama Southern.

Court documents indicate after loading up his van with the fish in South Alabama, it was driven back to Bui’s store in Columbus. Doing so violated Alabama’s “Lacey Act,” a federal wildlife law that prevents anyone from transporting or selling any wildlife taken, transported or obtained illegally. He also violated another Alabama law requiring any vehicle involved in the purchase of seafood to have a seafood license from the state.

But Bui avoided prison, sentenced to five years probation by a federal judge Friday.

“He’s also been restricted, prohibited on employment or ownership in the seafood industry,” said Ekman.

U.S. District Court Judge Terry Moorer also imposed a $25,000 fine, a $200 special assessment fee and required Bui to complete 300 hours of community service. His probation also includes specific rules.

“One of them being a restriction prohibition on possessing 10 pounds or more of seafood,” said Ekman.

Bui is also banned from selling seafood outside of live crawfish and crabs.

According to our sister station, WALA in Mobile, Bui’s attorney says he no longer owns S Mart grocery store in Columbus, which has been permanently closed.