LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — A company in Wisconsin and Minnesota that was convicted of buying and selling illegally harvested wild ginseng agreed this week to pay $100,000 and accept a two-year ban on transactions involving the gnarled root.

Wiebke Produce Inc., which is also known as the Wiebke Fur & Trading Company, pleaded guilty in August to violating an anti-poaching law.

During a plea hearing Thursday, company official Thomas Wiebke acknowledged that the company repeatedly bought wild ginseng that was harvested in Wisconsin without a license, according to a statement from the federal prosecutor’s office.

Wiebke Produce agreed to pay a $50,000 fine and another $50,000 in restitution to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The company, which has stores in La Crosse, Wis., and Eitzen, Minn., also agreed not to buy or sell ginseng in any state until August 2015.

Ginseng can only be harvested from private lands with the owner’s consent. But poachers, looking to capitalize on prices of $500 to $600 per pound of the wild root, have been known to sneak across property lines and dig up immature roots. That ensures the plants won’t reproduce and feeds a cycle of dwindling populations and rising prices.

“The fine and forfeiture imposed in this case should send a message to those who would cut corners at the expense of the environment,” U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said in a statement.

The company said Friday it planned to provide a statement in response to the plea hearing.

Ginseng is prized in China, Korea and other Asian countries. Consumers say the bitter root, which is typically sipped as tea or added to soups, eases stress, fatigue and insomnia.

Ed McCann, a conservation warden with the Wisconsin DNR, said Wiebke knowingly bought wild ginseng from people who should have had harvest licenses, and then falsified official documents to transport the ginseng across state lines.

McCann said the investigation began after officials realized Wiebke sells licenses for harvesting ginseng and also buys wild ginseng. He said in one case, a person acknowledged selling ginseng to Wiebke and then buying a license, all in the same transaction, even though the seller would have needed the license before harvesting the root.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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