Two men who live in Fairbanks were indicted by a federal grand jury on July 20, charged with multiple federal offenses related to an illegal big-game guide-outfitter operation.
Jun “Harry” Liang, 59, and Brian Phelan, 51, are alleged to have conducted guided hunts for caribou and brown bears without proper licensing from the state, the indictment says
According to court filings, Liang, operating without a guide-outfitter license, collected around $11,000 in 2021 and $60,000 in 2022 for these illegal services.
The indictment contains eight counts against Liang, including one count of Lacey Act conspiracy, two counts of wire fraud, one count of Lacey Act false labeling, two counts of illegal alien in possession of a firearm, and two counts of money laundering.
There are no charges relating to the provisions of prostitutes, as that is not a federal crime.
Phelan, also unlicensed, faces charges of Lacey Act conspiracy and Lacey Act false labeling.
Both charges under the Lacey Act, a federal conservation law that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold, point towards the seriousness of the offenses committed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a sting, in which it developed a complaint that was filed with the federal court in Alaska on July 12.
Investigators found that Liang was using a Chinese social media platform called xiaohongshu.com, which is also known as “Little Red Book.” It’s described as “China’s foremost fashion and luxury shopping platform.”
Liang posted in Mandarin on the Little Red Book his services as a guide for big-game hunts, specifically targeting Chinese-speaking clients who are Chinese nationals living in the United States or who are Chinese nationals. Once a potential client was interested, the communication continued on another Chinese messaging app called WeChat. Screen shots of the advertising of the hunts were translated by investigators using Google Translate.
Liang reportedly entered the U.S. on a tourist visa that expired in 2016 and has been living in Fairbanks. He purchased a Mercedes with some of the proceeds of the hunting scheme, the affidavit says. Liang is also the owner/operator of AK Aurora Travel Inc., which offered sightseeing and Northern Lights tours.
Liang was arrested and made his initial court appearance on July 14 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Scott A. Oravec of the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska. Phelan is scheduled for his initial court appearance in August.
If convicted, Liang could face a maximum of 20 years in prison, while Phelan could face up to five years. The actual sentence will be determined by a federal district court judge, considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker of the District of Alaska announced the indictment. The case is currently under investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, and the IRS, with the assistance of the Alaska State Troopers, Wildlife Investigations Unit.