4 arrested for buying bear paws, gallbladders in DNR sting

Left to right: Mug shots of Hoa Trung Huynh, Hieu Van Hoang, Hoang Lind-Duy Tran, and Tuan Hoa Pham.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — Four people, including three Kent County residents, have been charged in an investigation of the illegal sale of bear parts.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Tuan Hoa Pham, 52, of Kentwood, is charged with buying bear parts and sport-caught fish. Hoang Linh-Duy Tran, 45, of Wyoming, faces two counts of buying a black bear. Hoa Trung Huynh, 51, of Kentwood, faces a charge of illegally possessing black bear parts and a count of aiding and abetting the purchase of black bear parts.

The fourth person arrested was an Upper Peninsula man, Hieu Van Hoang, who’s already in hot water. He’s in the Chippewa County jail, charged with trying to kill his wife. In the black bear case, he’s accused of purchasing bear and deer parts.

“We received information from informants that were concerned about these defendants basically creating a market for illegal bear parts,” DNR Detective Lt. Jason Haines told 24 Hour News 8 in a Wednesday phone interview. “These defendants had made it known that they were interested in purchasing bear parts, more specifically gallbladders and paws from bears.”

The DNR launched an undercover investigation. The DNR says it completed a number of illegal transactions of bear paws and gallbladders with each of the suspects, using bear parts obtained from road kill or illegally killed bears that had been seized.

“When there is a black market for these items, it provides incentive for poachers to go and kill additional bears because there is that financial incentive for them to do so,” Haines said.

Officials think the suspects have purchased bear parts in the past.

“Due to their level of knowledge,” Haines explained. “Number one, that they were seeking these items out and number two, that they knew how to handle and use these items. That’s a good indicator they knew how to obtain them in the past.”

People who buy the parts generally use the paws to make bear paw soup, according Haines, and believe the bile from the gallbladder has medicinal uses.

“They will simply place that into a jar of whiskey or cognac or whatever your drink of choice might be and let it sit in there, and they feel that drinking that whiskey or whatever the drink is, they feel that drinking that can cure anything from migraine to arthritis,” Haines said.

The DNR says it has handled about six similar cases involving bear parts over the past five years. Buyers typically seek out people they believe to be hunters to get the parts they are looking for.

In this case, the agency was not able to prove any of the bear parts were crossing state or international boarders.

It is legal to hunt bear in Michigan during certain times of the year, but it is never legal to sell bear meat, bones, paws, teeth, claws or internal organs.

24 Hour News 8 was able to track down one of the men charged, Hoang Tran, at his home no Wednesday. He said he couldn’t answer questions because he didn’t speak English, but the DNR says all of its undercover transactions were completed in English.

In all, 11 misdemeanor charges have been filed in Kent and Chippewa counties. Each carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and 90 days in jail. The three Kent County suspects waived arraignment and are scheduled to be back in court for a pretrial hearing on Aug. 27, according to the DNR.