Several men who own restaurants in Collier County have been arrested in the past week for allegedly agreeing to buy seafood from Florida Fish and Wildlife officers posing as unlicensed vendors.
The undercover operation began in September, when Sitthiphorn Sunthi, 33, owner of Mojo Thai and Sushi in North Naples, was charged with agreeing to buy more than fifty pounds of fish from an FWC officer.
Then last week, Stoyan Panayotov, 45, owner of Escargot 41, and Wen Qin Chen, 45, of Panda Chinese Food, were arrested for allegedly trying to do the same thing, according to arrest reports.
Monday, Alfredo Bajraktarevic, 63, was arrested on similar charges. Fox 4 has yet to determine with which restaurant, if any, he is associated.
David Tripoli, chief operating officer of Truluck Restaurant Group, said that buying from reputable, licensed vendors is the only way that restaurant owners can be sure that the food they're serving is safe to eat.
"You want to deal with suppliers where you can trace the pedigree of that fish - the waters in which it was caught, where it was processed, assuring that it was held at the proper temperature," Tripoli said.
"If you have somebody who's trying to sell you some fish, and pulls up at your restaurant in a pickup truck with a cooler, that's probably your first sign that there's a problem," he added.
Tripoli cautioned that buying food from unlicensed vendors could lead to food poisoning.
"It could lead to an outbreak, and could certainly sicken many customers," he said.
All of the restauranteurs who were arrested for agreeing to buy fish illegally have bonded out of jail.