Hunting News

Monday, July 24, 2017

Alleged Head of Wildlife Smuggling Ring Extradited from Australia



Guan Zong Chen (“Graham Chen”), a Chinese national was arraigned today in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts on charges that he led a conspiracy to illegally export (smuggle) $700,000 worth of wildlife items made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral from the United States to Hong Kong. Chen was arrested last year when he traveled from China to Australia and today’s hearing was his first court appearance on an indictment returned by a Boston grand jury in 2015 and unsealed in anticipation of the hearing.

According to the eight-count indictment, Chen purchased the wildlife artifacts at U.S. auction houses located in California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Texas. He conspired with another Chinese national, a recent college graduate in China to travel to the United States to pick up the purchased items and either hand carry or arrange for them to be mailed to another co-conspirator that owned a shipping business in Concord, Massachusetts. The shipper then repacked the wildlife items and exported (smuggled) them to Hong Kong with documents that falsely stated their contents and value and without obtaining required declarations and permits. In April 2014, Chen visited the United States and visited the shipper in Concord, Massachusetts. During the visit with the shipper, CHEN instructed the shipper to illegally export (smuggle) a sculpture made from elephant ivory to Hong Kong on Chen’s behalf and falsely declared it to be made of wood and worth $50.

The unsealing of the indictment and court appearance were was announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb of the District of Massachusetts. In announcing the case today, Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood and Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb expressed their appreciation to the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Attorney-General’s Department for their help in apprehending Chen and extraditing him to the United States.

Trade in rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral have been regulated since 1976 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 175 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife, and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets. Animals listed under CITES cannot be exported from the United States without prior notification to, and approval from, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

was apprehended as part of Operation Crash, an ongoing effort by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Department of Justice to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of and trafficking in protected species including rhinoceros and elephants.

An indictment contains allegations that crimes have been committed. A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation is continuing and is being handled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts and support on the extradition from DOJ's Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Marshals Services in the District of Massachusetts. The government is represented by Senior Litigation Counsel Richard A. Udell and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

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.