Traders who exported New Zealand apples in boxes indicating the fruit was grown in Washington state earned at least $3 million through the scheme, a federal grand jury indictment alleges.
The operation, intended to bypass a Taiwanese import quota on New Zealand Gala apples, involved at least 23,000 boxes of Washington apples that were sold between April 1991 and July 1992, federal prosecutors said.
The 50-count indictment, returned by a grand jury Tuesday, charges the defendants with conspiracy, trafficking in counterfeit goods, making false statements and money laundering.
The Gala apples, which sold for about $35 per box in the United States, fetched about $100 or more per box in Taiwan, where the variety is highly valued, Yakima Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Shogren said.
Investigators believe the New Zealand box lids were replaced with ones carrying the Washington Apple Commission logo at the Chief Wenatchee cooperative.
Money from the sales was distributed to transporters and a shipping line as well as Chief Wenatchee to cover its expenses for purchasing and repacking the fruit, prosecutors said.
The corporate defendants named in the suit are three Redmond, Wash.-based Taiwanese exporting firms: WLH Group USA Inc., JNW Investments Inc. and TSW Investments Inc.
Individual defendants are Shou Shia Wang, an officer of all three companies; WLH president John Seng Wang; Su-Jan Wang Lin, a WLH office manager; and Ted Zacher, the former Chief Wenatchee president.
The grower-owned, Wenatchee, Wash.-based cooperative was not indicted. Its officers have maintained they knew nothing about the re-lidding operation.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter