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A Lincoln couple has pleaded guilty to taking fish from a national wildlife refuge in Kansas and selling them from their home.

Phong T. Duong, 48, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to traffic wildlife, a felony. His wife, Oanh T. Pham, 46, pleaded guilty to illegal taking, transporting and selling of fish, a misdemeanor, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney's office for Nebraska. 

A joint investigation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism found that over a three-year period, Duong and Pham operated a business out of their home in Lincoln.

Prosecutors say they sold fish illegally taken from the Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge in Kirwin, Kansas.

Officials seized 128 pounds of fish, fish finders, sonar equipment, a 16-foot Crestliner fishing boat, a 75-horsepower outboard motor, a bow-mounted electric trolling motor and a single-axle boat trailer.

The plea agreement detailed that the couple had been received $16,000 in cash for fish sold between 2013-2016.

Duong and Pham did not have permission or authority to take fish from the refuge and its other reservoirs in excess of the possession limits or for commercial purposes.

The plea deal alleges the couple avoided detection by routinely changing fishing locations, stashing fish at off-site locations and using "straw fishermen," including minor children and others, to conceal fish. 

The fish — crappie, white bass and wiper — would be cleaned and bagged at the couple's home in Lincoln and sold to customers in the area. 

The two are set to be sentenced in September. Duong faces up to five years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. Pham faces up to one year in prison and a maximum $100,000 fine.

The plea deal requires the couple pay $16,000 to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or eclopton@journalstar.com.

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