Hunting News

Friday, June 1, 2018

Five Men Indicted In Louisiana for Conspiracy to Smuggle Birds


Five men have been charged in New Orleans with crimes related to illegally exporting birds protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) from the United States to Taiwan.  William McGinness, 59, of Buena Park, California; Paul Tallman, 55, of Destreham, Louisiana; Rene Rizal, 62, of La Mirada, California; Wayne Andrews, 46, of Royal Oaks, California and Alex Madriaga, 76, of Buena Park, California; were each indicted in federal court in the eastern District of Louisiana today.

On May 31, 2018, a five-count indictment was returned charging McGinness, Tallman, Rizal, Andrews and Madriaga with conspiracy to smuggle CITES-protected birds from the United States to Taiwan. McGuinness was also charged with smuggling birds to Taiwan and three counts of making and submitting false records under the Lacey Act, and Tallman was charged with smuggling and one count of making and submitting false records under the Lacey Act.

The indictment alleges, among other things, that McGinness, a resident of California, and his co-conspirators created false statements and submitted them to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in order to illegally export CITES-protected birds from the Port of New Orleans to Taiwan. The shipment included 90 CITES-protected birds, including parrots, macaws, cockatoos and corellas. Several of the birds were in crates that were falsely labeled. The USFWS seized 14 of the birds at the airport in Houston, Texas before they were exported. 

The indictments were announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Acting Assistant Director Edward Grace of the Office of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“These indictments demonstrate our commitment, shared with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to investigate and prosecute those engaged in illegal trade of protected animals,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “We will continue to collaborate with our partners at the federal, state and local levels to prosecute wildlife smuggling.”

"Today’s indictments were the result of a complex investigation into the wildlife trafficking of protected birds,” said Acting Assistant Director Grace. “Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that is detrimental to species around the world. I am very proud of our special agents and wildlife inspectors who helped bring these defendants to justice."

The United States and approximately 182 other countries are signatories to CITES, which provides a mechanism for regulating international trade in species whose continued survival is threatened by such trade. Species are listed on “appendices,” based on the level of protection necessary to protect the species. 

The case was investigated by the USFWS and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section. The government is represented by Environmental Crimes Section Trial Attorney Mary Dee Carraway.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Maine Men Sentenced for Illegally Trafficking American Eels


Today, William Sheldon was sentenced in federal district court in Portland, Maine, to six months in prison followed by three years supervised release for trafficking juvenile American eels, also called “elvers” or “glass eels,” in violation of the Lacey Act, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Sheldon was also ordered to pay a fine of $10,000, forfeit $33,200 in lieu of a truck he used during the crime, and may not possess a license to purchase or export elvers as a special condition of his supervised release. Also sentenced today for elver trafficking offenses was Timothy Lewis, who received a sentence of six months in prison followed by three years supervised release, with the special condition that he too may not possess a license to purchase or export elvers. Lewis was also ordered to pay a $2500 fine. Thomas Reno was also sentenced today to one year probation.

In the factual statement accompanying his guilty plea in October 2017, Sheldon, a licensed Maine elver dealer, admitted to trafficking nearly $550,000 worth of illegal elvers, and to taking specific steps to evade law enforcement detection. Lewis admitted to trafficking nearly $500,000 worth of illegal elvers, and Reno admitted to trafficking over $100,000 worth of illegal elvers.

“Today’s sentences establish that the United States will not tolerate interstate and international transactions involving illegally taken wildlife,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “Despite their best efforts to evade law enforcement, these defendants were ultimately brought to justice, and we are very proud to have worked with our partners at the federal, state and local level to achieve this result.”  

“With today’s sentencings, the success of Operation Broken Glass continues,” said Acting Assistant Director Edward Grace for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. “By working with our partners, we are actively working to dismantle an international wildlife trafficking scheme that not only harms American eels, but U.S. business owners and others who rely on healthy ecosystems for both ecological and economical purposes. Together, we will continue to protect native wildlife and our national resources for the continuing benefit of the American people." 

These sentences were the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-jurisdiction United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels.  To date, the investigation has resulted in guilty pleas for twenty-one individuals whose combined conduct resulted in the illegal trafficking of more than $5 million worth of elvers.

Eels are highly valued in east Asia for human consumption.  Historically, Japanese and European eels were harvested to meet this demand; however, overfishing has led to a decline in the population of these eels.  As a result, harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void resulting from the decreased number of Japanese and European eels.

American eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, an area of the North Atlantic Ocean bounded on all sides by ocean currents.  They then travel as larvae from the Sargasso to the coastal waters of the eastern United States, where they enter a juvenile or elver stage, swim upriver, and grow to adulthood in fresh water.  Elvers are exported for aquaculture in east Asia, where they are raised to adult size and sold for food.  Harvesters and exporters of American eels in the United States can sell elvers to east Asia for more than $2000 per pound.

Because of the threat of overfishing, elver harvesting is prohibited in the United States in all but two states: Maine and South Carolina.  Maine and South Carolina heavily regulate elver fisheries, requiring that individuals be licensed and report all quantities of harvested eels to state authorities. Operation Broken Glass targeted illegal elver poaching in states without open fisheries, and the subsequent illegal transport and export of those elvers.

Operation Broken Glass was conducted by the USFWS and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section in collaboration with the Maine Marine Patrol, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Bureau of Law Enforcement, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Conservation Police, Virginia Marine Resources Commission Police, USFWS Refuge Law Enforcement, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, Massachusetts Environmental Police, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Law Enforcement, New York State Environmental Conservation Police, New Hampshire Fish and Game Division of Law Enforcement, Maryland Natural Resources Police, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission Division of Law Enforcement, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Yarmouth, Massachusetts Division of Natural Resources, North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Police Department, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The government is represented by Environmental Crimes Section Trial Attorneys Cassandra Barnum and Shane Waller.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Two Men Indicted for Illegally Trafficking American Eels



Joseph Kelley and James Lewis were each indicted in Newark, New Jersey, with crimes related to illegally trafficking juvenile American eels, also known as “elvers” or “glass eels.”  A seven-count indictment was returned on Jan. 18, 2018, charging Kelley and Lewis with conspiracy to smuggle elvers and violate the Lacey Act.

The Indictment alleges that Kelley and Lewis knowingly harvested elvers illegally in the states of New Jersey and Massachusetts, and sold those elvers to dealers or exporters. Among those dealers is Thomas Choi, who pleaded guilty to related crimes in the District of Maine in 2016, and who was subsequently sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for those offenses.

The indictments were announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Acting Director Greg Sheehan of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Eels are highly valued in east Asia for human consumption.  Historically, Japanese and European eels were harvested to meet this demand. However, overfishing has led to a decline in the population of these eels.  As a result, harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void resulting from the decreased number of Japanese and European eels.  Because of the threat of overfishing, elver harvesting is prohibited in the United States in all but two states: Maine and South Carolina.  Maine and South Carolina heavily regulate elver fisheries, requiring that individuals be licensed and report all quantities of harvested eels to state authorities. 

These indictments were the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-jurisdiction, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels.  To date, the investigation has resulted in two other indictments, as well as guilty pleas for nineteen other individuals in Maine, Virginia, and South Carolina.  These defendants combined have admitted to illegally trafficking more than $4.5 million worth of elvers.

Operation Broken Glass was conducted by USFWS and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section in collaboration with the Maine Marine Patrol, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Bureau of Law Enforcement, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Conservation Police, Virginia Marine Resources Commission Police, USFWS Refuge Law Enforcement, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, Massachusetts Environmental Police, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Law Enforcement, New York State Environmental Conservation Police, New Hampshire Fish and Game Division of Law Enforcement, Maryland Natural Resources Police, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission Division of Law Enforcement, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Yarmouth, Massachusetts Division of Natural Resources, North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Police Department and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The government is represented by Environmental Crimes Section Trial Attorneys Cassandra Barnum and Shane Waller.