Hunting News

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Three Men Plead Guilty to Illegally Trafficking American Eels

William Sheldon, Timothy Lewis, and Charles Good appeared today in federal court in Portland, Maine, where each pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act by trafficking juvenile American eels (also known as “elvers” or “glass eels”).  Sheldon and Lewis had each been separately indicted by a Grand Jury in March 2017 for conspiring to smuggle elvers and violate the Lacey Act. Good pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with aiding and abetting the illegal transport of elvers in violation of the Lacey Act.

Historically, Japanese and European eels were harvested and sold as food in East Asia  As overfishing has led to a decline in the population of these eels, harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void resulting from the decreased number of Japanese and European eels.

American elvers are exported to East Asia, where they are raised to adult size and sold for food.  Harvesters and exporters of American eels 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.  Both states heavily regulate elver fisheries, requiring that individuals be licensed and report all quantities of harvested eels to state authorities.

Today’s guilty pleas were the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-state U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels.  To date, the investigation has resulted in 18 guilty pleas in Maine, Virginia, and South Carolina.  Combined, these 18 defendants have admitted to illegally trafficking more than $4.5 million worth of elvers.  The offenses in these case are felonies under the Lacey Act, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years’ incarceration, a fine of up to $250,000 or up to twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss, or both.

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, September 29, 2017

Foreign National Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Rhinoceros Horn

Michael Hegarty, 40, an Irish national, pled guilty today in U.S. District Court in Miami to fraudulently facilitating the transportation and concealment of a Libation Cup carved from an endangered rhinoceros horn, that was illegally smuggled from the United States to Great Britain.

The guilty plea was announced today by Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg for the Southern District of Florida, and Ed Grace, Acting Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The prosecution of Hegarty is part of Operation Crash, a continuing effort by the Special Investigations Unit of the FWS Office of Law Enforcement in coordination with the Department of Justice to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), was enacted by Congress to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The ESA makes it unlawful to knowingly deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce, by any means whatsoever and in the course of a commercial activity, endangered species, including rhinoceros; and to sell and offer to sell endangered species of wildlife, including rhinoceros, in interstate and foreign commerce.

According to the Plea Agreement, a Joint Factual Statement filed by the parties, other court records, and statements at the hearing, in mid-April 2012, Hegarty and his co-conspirator joined a Miami resident to attend an auction in Rockingham, North Carolina where Sheridan functioned as the bidder on behalf of the three individuals, and made the winning bid for a rhinoceros horn libation cup. Hegarty and his co-conspirator received the rhinoceros horn libation cup in Florida. The co-conspirator then smuggled the libation cup out of the United States in his luggage, and failed to declare the export of the rhino horn libation cup as required by law to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and neither applied for nor obtained the permit required under the Endangered Species Act.
The co-conspirator, along with two other Irish nationals, was arrested by Metropolitan Police in London, while attempting to sell the same rhinoceros horn libation cup to a Hong Kong native. Scientific analysis conducted at the National Fish & Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon determine that the Libation Cup was in fact fashioned from the horn of an ESA-protected Great Indian Rhinoceros.

Hegarty was arrested on the charges through an INTERPOL Red Notice and extradited to the United States from Belgium. His co-conspirator was convicted on unrelated charges in England, is currently incarcerated there, and is still wanted to face wildlife trafficking charges in the Southern District of Florida.

“Trafficking in endangered and threatened species is illegal,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Greenberg. “Together with our law enforcement partners, we will strictly enforce the laws that protect our environment and our wildlife. The international community strongly supports these enforcement efforts and is capable of finding and holding accountable these criminals wherever they attempt to hide.”

“By trafficking in wildlife products, such as items made from a rhinoceros horn, smugglers are fueling the illegal trade in endangered wildlife, which may ultimately lead to the species extinction,” said Ed Grace, Acting Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I am proud of our special agents who exposed this complex, international scheme that spanned many international borders. This case showed the direct link between wildlife trafficking and transnational organized crime and reinforced our commitment to continue working with U.S. and international partners to pursue these criminals who profit from the illegal trade in wildlife.”

Hegarty will be sentenced by the Honorable Donald M. Middlebrooks, United States District Court Judge, who accepted the guilty plea. Sentencing will be held  Nov. 14, 2017 at 2:20 p.m. Hegarty faces a maximum penalty of up to ten years in prison, followed by a term of supervised release of up to three years, and a maximum fine of $250,000, or up to twice the gross gain.

The investigation is being handled by the FWS Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section.  The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Former Canadian Mountie Sentenced to Money Laundering Charges Stemming from a Conspiracy to Smuggle Ivory Tusks

A retired officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock for the District of Maine to 62 months in prison for 10 money laundering offenses, announced the Justice Department. Gregory R. Logan, 59, of St. John, New Brunswick, was extradited to the United States from Canada on March 11, 2016.  He was indicted in the District of Maine in November 2012 and charged with conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering, and pled guilty to 10 money laundering offenses on September 28, 2016.

“This defendant illegally imported hundreds of narwhal tusks into the United States, with a value in the millions of dollars.  Unlawful wildlife trade like this undermines efforts by federal, state, and foreign governments to protect and restore populations of species like the narwhal, a majestic creature of the sea with long and spiraled protruding ivory tusks,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Our Division successfully worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries, and the Canadian Government to successfully conclude this case.”

“This investigation highlights the best of law enforcement working together.  Our special agents, with counterparts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environment and Climate Change Canada, investigated a complex scheme where illegal narwhal tusks were trafficked across the U.S.-Canada border,” said acting Chief of Law Enforcement Ed Grace for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Wildlife smuggling is a transnational crime that knows no borders and requires an international response. We will continue to work closely with our international, federal, and state partners to investigate and arrest individuals who smuggle and sell protected wildlife for their own financial gain.”

"Today's sentencing brings to a close a long investigation and prosecutorial process that underscores our global commitment to end wildlife trafficking," said Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. "We are grateful for the international cooperation that has lead to this conclusion."

“This case is the result of a successful joint investigation involving partners across Canada and the United States working to stop the illegal commercialization and exploitation of Canadian wildlife, in this case the smuggling of narwhal tusks,” said Glen Ehler, Regional Director, Wildlife Enforcement Directorate, Enforcement Branch, Environment and Climate Change Canada. “Today’s sentence and the previous conviction in Canada send a strong message that this type of offence will not be tolerated.”

Logan was involved in a 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.

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 was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James B. Nelson and Lauren D. Steele.