COLUMBUS, Ohio – A federal grand jury in Columbus indicted a West Virginia man on charges of receipt, acquisition or purchase of illegally transported protected plants and falsification of records, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Tony Lee Coffman, 59 of Birch River, West Virginia, faces six counts in connection to acquiring illegally transported ginseng.
According to the indictment, Coffman received, acquired or purchased American ginseng roots that had been illegally transported from Ohio and falsified records relating to the purchase of Ohio ginseng, the Justice Department said in a statement.
The law provides for a maximum total sentence of five years in prison per count, a fine of $20,000 per count, or both. If found guilty, a federal judge would determine the sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The case is being prosecuted by Justice Department Senior Trial Attorney Adam Cullman, who works for its Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Pakiz , who works for its Southern District of Ohio.
Law enforcement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources investigated the case.
The Justice Department, in a Friday statement, didn’t provide additional details.
American ginseng grows wild in shady, mature Appalachian forests. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources refers to it as “green gold.”
American ginseng is prized for its roots. It’s been used for hundreds of years by the Cherokee and in Appalachian folk medicine. More recently, demand for American ginseng has shot up with Chinese demand for it in herbal medicine. It can sell for up to $850 a pound, according to recent reporting in the Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a ginseng management program, since it’s slow-growing, and the state wants “to ensure the continued presence of ginseng for generations to come.”
Ginseng root is not regulated as a pharmaceutical drug. Its proponents claim it can boost the immune system, improve brain function, decrease inflammation, fight fatigue and even improve erectile dysfunction.