Nunnsense: Felonious Fishes

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I got into Star Wars relatively early on in my childhood development, and I liked that Han Solo – played by Harrison Ford, in case you don’t know – had been a smuggler before he fought alongside the Rebel Alliance against the Empire. Smuggling, or at least having the ability to remain cool while hiding something and lying under pressure, seemed, to my 8-year-old brain, like the best possible set of attributes that a person could have.

I guess I thought that, if I could act like that, I could get away with anything. Still working on that one. Anyway, while I’ve remained a good boy and remained on this side of the law, there are others that have taken the law into their own hands and, like a precious porcelain plate, broken it by throwing it onto the ground.

According to the Department of Justice, Joel Rakower is one of these men. Rakower, owner of a tropical fish dealership in Queens called Transship Discounts, Ltd., has been accused of smuggling some piranhas into the country and then labeling them as common aquarium fish.

Apparently, piranha possession is illegal in New York and several other states. Who knew? Rakower’s lawyer claimed that Rakower’s actions were a simple error in judgment, implying perhaps that he didn’t know what he was dealing with when he sold them as goldfish, guppies, or whatever.

Yeah, I’d buy that completely, except for one detail that I’ve intentionally left out until now: over the course of two years Rakower imported approximately 39,000 piranhas into New York’s ports. Thirty nine thousand? And you’re telling me that not a single one of those little chompers bit Rakower before then? No chance.

There’s still a chance, however, that this all worked out for the better for Rakower’s business; after pleading guilty Rakower was only forced to pay $73,000 in fines for his transgression. If he charged more than $1.87 per fish, he would still have been making a profit. Try getting a fish at Walmart for less than that.

So, a good business model would involve charging about $5 per piranha and accepting the fines as simply the cost of doing business. Think of it as a tariff. And what about the legality of piranha possession after they are sold? Let the consumer worry about that one.

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