HELENA — The owners of the New Hunan restaurant in Helena pleaded guilty Monday to 13 wildlife charges involving black bears, including having a five-gallon bucket with 12 bear paws in it at the restaurant.

David Hong, 57, and his wife Heng Huang, 52, — who goes by the name of Susan — were ordered by Judge Michael Swingley to pay $9,600 in fines, but he suspended $4,620, which means they’ll pay $4,980 if they stay out of trouble. Swingley also prohibited them from hunting for six years.

Sgt. Dave Loewen, a game warden, said the couple came to the state agency’s attention after they approached a customer eating in the restaurant, asked if they were hunters and inquired if they would sell them bear gallbladders. A concerned citizen called the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which launched an undercover investigation.

“It’s fairly significant for us … anytime you’re dealing with the sale of wildlife,” Loewen said.

Gallbladders are highly prized in some Asian cultures, and used for a range of medicinal purposes and as an aphrodisiac. They can sell for thousands of dollars.

Bear paws are considered a gourmet delicacy by some people.

Loewen said the couple solicited undercover agents on three separate occasions, and paid cash each time for bear parts, two whole bears and three gallbladders. The bear carcasses had been confiscated previously by FWP.

“Our concern was whether this was bigger than just what we were seeing,” Loewen said. “That’s why we got so deep on this one. We were concerned they were shipping these out of state, but we didn’t find that with this.”

Huang’s attorney, Michael Kakuk, said in court that Susan Huang had injured her hip a few years earlier, and wanted the gallbladders for her own medicinal use. They didn’t explain the purpose of the bear paws.

A search of both the couple’s home and the restaurant turned up three gall bladders, two butchered bears in the freezer and the 12 bear paws in the bucket, Loewen said.

Hong was ticketed twice for unlawful possession of two black bears on June 4; unlawful possession of all or part of three game animals and unlawful sale of those parts on Sept. 16; unlawful sale or purchase of a game animal and unlawful possession of a game animal on May 15; and unlawful transfer of a hunting license on Nov. 22, 2012.

Huang was ticketed for unlawful sale of game animal parts for buying 12 black bear paws and three gallbladders, and unlawful possession of those parts on Sept. 16; twice for unlawful purchase of each black bear on June 4; and twice for unlawful possession of the bears on May 15.

Reach Byron at eve.byron@helenair.com or 406-447-4076

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