LOUDOUN, Va. (WRIC) — A Russian scientist pleaded guilty to federal charges after smuggling “endangered species” through Dulles International Airport last August — but the specimens in question turned out to simply be DNA samples used for research.
Polina Perelman may now face up to 20 years in prison or a fine of $250,000 under a smuggling statute for concealing the DNA samples she was bringing through customs last August.
According to a statement of facts, agreed to as part of her plea deal, Perelman is a Russian citizen but a permanent legal resident of the United States. She’s also, according to her LinkedIn page and statements to Customs and Border Protection, a prominent researcher in molecular biology at the Novosibirsk Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
Perelman was arriving at Dulles on a flight last August when she filled out the standard customs form familiar to all international travelers. But when it came time to check the box next to “cell cultures” and “animal/wildlife products,” Perelman marked that she was not carrying any.
But agents who rifled through Perelman’s bags found a styrofoam cooler labeled “research samples,” which contained vials full of what Perelman explained were cell samples she planned to have sequenced in the United States.
Prosecutors also highlighted a supposed violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), because two of the samples contained the DNA of the Siberian Crane and Dhole, both of which are endangered.
Perelman was released on her own recognizance and will now be sentenced this August.