The recent indictment of a Lamont man on five counts of illegal ginseng trafficking highlights the temptations posed by a wild-growing root that fetches $700 a pound on international markets.

“The higher the price, the greater the potential for illegal harvest,” said Mark Loeschke, the Department of Natural Resources botanist who oversees the state’s wild ginseng, a forb/herb thought by many to have potent medicinal properties. A lengthy multi-agency investigation resulted in a federal indictment of Jeff Sargent on charges that he bought and sold illegally obtained ginseng and that he conspired with others to do so.

Sargent and unnamed co-conspirators recruited others to buy harvest permits, and the co-conspirators then harvested ginseng under those permits and sold it to Sargent, according to the indictment, filed Jan. 16 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. Neither state nor federal investigators would elaborate on the nature of the illegal activity, presumably because the ongoing investigation may lead to additional charges.

DNR conservation officer Mike Macke, who participated in the investigation, said the price of dried wild ginseng root has more than doubled in recent years, primarily because of booming economies in China and Korea, leading importers of American ginseng.

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