Hunting News

Friday, April 28, 2017

Four Men Charged With the Illegal Trafficking of Threatened Alligator Snapping Turtles

The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that four men have been charged for their involvement in the illegal trafficking of alligator snapping turtles.

Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in the world and can grow to weigh more than 200 pounds with a lifespan of more than 100 years. The turtles are designated as threatened with statewide extinction under Texas state law which strictly prohibits anyone from taking, capturing, transporting, or selling these turtles, or attempting to do so.

In one indictment, Travis Leger and Rickey Simon, both of Sulphur, Louisiana, and Jason Leckelt of Wilburton, Oklahoma, are charged with conspiracy and Lacey Act violations for illegally taking about 66 alligator snapping turtles in Texas and then transporting them back to their property in Sulphur, Louisiana, for sale in the Spring and Summer of 2016. In July 2016, federal agents seized 30 large alligator snapping turtles from ponds located at the defendants’ property in Sulphur, Louisiana, pursuant to a federal search warrant. The indictment also charges Leger with making a false statement to federal agents and charges Rickey Simon with destroying evidence during the execution of the federal warrant. In a separate indictment, Montaro Williams of Elton, Louisiana, is charged with a Lacey Act violation for illegally taking two alligator snapping turtles in Texas and then attempting to transport them to Louisiana for sale on Aug. 12, 2013.

Leger was arrested today in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and made his initial appearance in federal court there. Simon, Leckelt, and Williams were arrested earlier this month.

An indictment is an allegation based upon a finding of probable cause by a federal grand jury, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy, Lacey Act, and false statement charges and up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the destruction of evidence charge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph E. Batte of the Eastern District of Texas and Senior Trial Attorney David P. Kehoe of the Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section, prosecuted the case. The case is being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Long Island Man Pleads Guilty to Trafficking in Rhinoceros Horns

Fengyi Zhou, a resident of Syosset, New York, and the owner of a business that specialized in Asian works of art, pleaded guilty today to illegally trafficking horns from endangered black rhinoceros.

The guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Zhou, 49, who has worked as an Asian art dealer for years, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz II for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, New York, to a one count information charging him with wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.  

Zhou was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

In papers filed in federal court, Zhou admitted to purchasing as many as five uncarved rhinoceros horns from another Asian arts dealer in New York.  Along with the horns, Zhou was given an “Endangered Species Bill of Sale,” from which Zhou was made aware that four of the horns were purchased in Texas and unlawfully transported to New York.  Immediately after purchasing the rhinoceros horns, Zhou offered to sell and later sold the horns, to an associate who was a Chinese national residing in the People’s Republic of China for more than $130,000. 

“These horns are the remains of a dead animal, and one of the world’s most iconic species that will certainly go extinct in our lifetimes if we do not stop this illegal trafficking,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden.  “We expect those in the arts and auction trade to understand and obey the law, and those that do not will be investigated and prosecuted for these crimes.”

 “Because of the scourge of wildlife trafficking and those like Mr. Zhou who practice it, there is now a very real possibility that the rhinoceros could disappear from Africa,” said Director Ashe.  “We are determined that this never happen and that we don’t leave behind for our children a world without this magnificent wild creature.  The law enforcement efforts of Operation Crash have now seen dozens of rhino traffickers caught and prosecuted, each case sending a clear message to others engaged in this shameful practice that we will stop you and we will bring you to justice.”

Rhinoceros are herbivores of prehistoric origin and the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth.  They have no known predators other than humans.  All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States and international law.  Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 183 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.

The investigation is continuing and is being handled by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and USFWS’s Office of Law Enforcement.  The government is represented by Trial Attorneys Lauren D. Steele and Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Former Canadian Mountie Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering Charges Stemming from a Conspiracy to Smuggle Narwhal Tusks

A retired officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pleaded guilty today to 10 money laundering offenses in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  Gregory R. Logan, 59, of St. John, New Brunswick, was extradited to the United States on March 11.  Logan, who has been detained since his extradition, will remain in jail pending his sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. for the District of Maine in Bangor, Maine.

Logan was indicted in the District of Maine in November 2012 and charged with conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering.  All of the counts arose from Logan’s scheme to smuggle narwhal tusks from Canada to the United States for sale to American customers and transfer the proceeds of those sales back to Canada.  Logan was arrested in Canada, based on a request from the United States, in December 2013.  Logan pleaded guilty to a related wildlife smuggling crime in Canada and the terms of his extradition limited the case against him in the United States to the money laundering offenses.  Also charged in the original indictment was Andrew J. Zarauskas of Union, New Jersey.  Zarauskas was convicted after a jury trial in Bangor and sentenced to 33 months in prison.

Narwhals are medium-sized toothed whales that are native to the Arctic.  They are known for their distinctive ivory tusk which can grow to more than eight feet in length.  Given the threats to their population, narwhals are protected domestically by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and internationally by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – an international treaty to which more than 170 countries, including the United States and Canada, are parties.  It is illegal to import narwhals, or their parts, into the United States for commercial purposes.  Further, any importation must be accompanied by a permit and must be declared to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to the indictment, Logan smuggled more than 250 narwhal tusks into the United States between 2000 and 2010.  As part of the plea agreement, Logan agreed that the market value of the narwhal tusks in this case was between $1.5 million and $3 million. Knowing that the tusks were illegal to bring into the United States and sell, Logan transported them across the border in false compartments in his vehicle and trailer.  Logan utilized a shipping store in Ellsworth, Maine, to send the tusks to customers throughout the United States, including Zarauskas and others.  Logan knew that his customers would re-sell the tusks for a profit and in an attempt to increase that re-sale price, Logan would occasionally provide fraudulent documentation claiming that the tusks had originally belonged to a private collector in Maine who had acquired them legally.

In addition to shipping the tusks from Maine, Logan maintained a post office box the Ellsworth shipping store as well as an account at a bank in Bangor.  Logan instructed his customers to send payment in the form of checks to the post office box, or wire money directly to his Maine bank account.  Logan then transported the money to Canada by having the shipping store forward his mail to him in Canada, and by using an ATM card to withdraw money from his Maine bank account at Canadian ATM machines.  At times, Logan also directed his customers to send funds directly to him in Canada.

Logan faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $500,000 fine, per count of conviction.  The case was investigated by special agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement; and Wildlife Officers from Environment and Climate Change Canada.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James B. Nelson and Lauren D. Steele.