Hunting News

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Former Ohio Wildlife Officer Convicted of Trafficking in White-Tailed Deer

WASHINGTON – Allan Wright, 45, of Russellville, Ohio, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Cincinnati to violating the Lacey Act by trafficking in and making false records for illegally harvested white-tailed deer, the Department of Justice announced.   Wright committed the Lacey Act crimes while he was employed as a wildlife officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.   Wright’s employment as a wildlife officer was terminated after he was indicted in August 2011.   As part of his plea agreement, Wright has agreed not to appeal his termination.

Among other things, t he Lacey Act makes it a crime for a person to knowingly transport or sell wildlife in interstate commerce when the wildlife was taken or possessed in violation of state law.   The Lacey Act also makes it a crime for a person to knowingly make or submit a false record, account or label for wildlife that has been transported in interstate commerce.   Wright pleaded guilty to a total of four Lacey Act crimes based on his conduct between 2006 and 2010.  

As part his plea, Wright admitted that, using his authority as a wildlife officer, he sold a resident Ohio hunting license to a non-resident hunter in 2006.   That hunter used the illegal Ohio resident hunting license to kill three white-tailed deer.   As part of his plea, Wright admitted that he “checked in” those deer by providing a false Ohio residence address for the non-resident hunter in order to make it appear that the deer were killed by an Ohio resident.   After the deer were checked in, the non-resident hunter transported them in interstate commerce from Ohio to South Carolina.

Also as part of his plea, Wright admitted that, using his authority as a wildlife officer, he seized white-tailed deer antlers from a hunter who had killed a deer illegally in 2009.   Wright admitted that, rather than disposing of the antlers through court proceedings, as required by Ohio law, he knowingly supplied them to another individual who transported them from Ohio to Michigan.   As part of his plea, Wright admitted that he filed an official state form, which falsely reported that he had personally destroyed those antlers.  

Wright faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine per count.   A date has not yet been set for Wright’s sentencing.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement.   This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney James B. Nelson of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Federal Officials Announce Nationwide Crackdown on Black Market Rhino Trade

WASHINGTON – Seven people have been arrested on charges of trafficking in endangered black rhinoceros horn over the past week in Los Angeles, Newark, N.J., and New York, the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior today announced.  Special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) made the arrests and have executed search warrants in five different states as part of “Operation Crash,” a multi-agency effort to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of endangered rhinoceros horn.

In Los Angeles, Jin Zhao Feng, a Chinese national who allegedly oversaw the shipment of at least dozens of rhino horns from the United States to China, was arrested last night.   Last weekend, members of an alleged U.S.-based trafficking ring that supplied rhino horns to Feng were arrested after being charged with conspiracy and violations of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act for purchasing rhino horns from various suppliers in the U.S.  Charges were filed against Jimmy Kha, the owner of Win Lee Corporation; his son Felix Kha; and Mai Nguyen, the owner of a nail salon where packages containing rhinoceros horns were being mailed.  One of the alleged suppliers, Wade Steffen, was arrested in Hico, Texas, and charged in Los Angeles.  According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the Khas began receiving packages from Steffen and another supplier in 2010.  Seventeen packages were opened under federal search warrants and 37 rhinoceros horns were found.

A search of Steffen’s luggage at the Long Beach Airport in California on Feb. 9, 2012, turned up $337,000 in cash. In additional searches conducted by FWS and ICE, agents found rhinoceros horns, cash, bars of gold, diamonds and Rolex watches.   Approximately $1 million in cash was seized and another $1 million seized in gold ingots.

“The rhino is an animal of prehistoric origin that is facing possible extinction because of an illegal trade for its horns on the black market that is driven by greed,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.  “The rhino is protected under both U.S. and international law, and we are taking aggressive action to protect the rhino by investigating and vigorously prosecuting those who are engaged in this brutal trade.”    

In New Jersey, Amir Even-Ezra was arrested Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, on a felony trafficking charge in violation of the Lacey Act after purchasing rhino horns from an individual from New York at a service station off of the New Jersey Turnpike.   Even-Ezra allegedly brought a scale for weighing the horns and envelopes of cash to the meeting, which was brokered by an individual outside of the United States.

In U.S. District Court in Manhattan, antiques expert David Hausman was also charged with illegally trafficking rhinoceros horns and with creating false documents to conceal the illegal nature of the transaction, both in violation of the Lacey Act.  Hausman allegedly purchased a black rhinoceros mount (a taxidermied head of a rhinoceros) from an undercover officer in Illinois and was later observed sawing off the horns in a motel parking lot.  Rhino horns were found in a search conducted on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, following his arrest.

“Rhino horn traffickers continue to fuel the illegal demand for horn, demand that has led to hundreds of rhino deaths and put the white and black rhino in danger of extinction in the wild,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.  “These arrests have dealt a serious blow to rhino horn smuggling, but represent only the beginning of a significant crackdown on this illegal trade.”

“The illegal trade in endangered wildlife robs the world of these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat,” said ICE Director John Morton.  “This case is a reflection of our commitment to ensuring that our children and grandchildren are not deprived by criminals whose only goal is to make a quick buck at the expense of these innocent creatures.”

Rhinoceros are an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth.   All species of rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law.   All black rhinoceros species are endangered.   Rhino horns are composed of keratin, the same type of protein that makes up hair and fingernails.   Rhinoceros horn is a highly valued and sought-after commodity despite the fact that international trade has been largely banned since 1976.   The demand for rhinoceros horn, which is used by some cultures for ornamental carvings, good luck charms or alleged medicinal purposes, has resulted in a thriving black market – a market that has escalated in recent years in both volume and per-unit profit.

  If convicted, maximum penalties under these charges are up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy; five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for Lacey Act violations; and up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for violations of the Endangered Species Act.

Operation Crash (a “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros) is a continuing investigation by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior FWS, with assistance from other federal and local law enforcement agencies including ICE and the Internal Revenue Service.   The investigation is being led by the Special Investigations Unit of the FWS Office of Law Enforcement and involves a task force of agents focused on rhino trafficking.

A criminal complaint is a charge based on probable cause allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted.

The criminal prosecution is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Alabama Man Pleads Guilty to Selling Anhinga Feathers

WASHINGTON – Alexander D. Alvarez of Atmore, Ala., pleaded guilty in federal court today to violating the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for illegally selling and possessing the feathers of anhingas and other migratory birds protected under the MBTA, the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama announced.  

Alvarez was charged by criminal information on Feb. 1, 2012, with one felony Lacey Act violation, one felony MBTA violation and one misdemeanor MBTA violation.   The Lacey Act charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.   The felony MBTA charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of $250,000.   The misdemeanor MBTA charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a fine of $15,000.   Sentencing is scheduled for May 22, 2012.  

Under the MBTA, the Secretary of the Interior maintains a list of migratory birds which are protected from, among other things, being killed, sold, bartered, transported or possessed, except as otherwise permitted by federal regulation.   Enrolled members of federally-recognized American Indian tribes may possess eagle and other migratory bird feathers and parts for religious and ceremonial purposes, but federal law strictly prohibits the sale of migratory birds, feathers or their parts by any person.   Alvarez is not an enrolled member of a federally-recognized American Indian tribe.   The Lacey Act prohibits, among other things, the sale of wildlife knowing that the wildlife was taken or possessed in violation of any federal wildlife-related regulation or law.     

 “Mr. Alvarez sought to profit from selling protected bird feathers he had no legal right to possess,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.   “Federal law prohibits the sale of migratory birds, feathers or their parts for commercial gain.   In enforcing these wildlife laws in partnership with tribal law enforcement, we share a duty to protect the nation’s scarce and precious wildlife resources.   In protecting these resources for future generations, we also ensure the ability of federally recognized tribal members to possess eagle and migratory bird feathers for religious and ceremonial practices.”

 “Protecting our natural resources, particularly wildlife, from being exploited against the law for personal gain continues to be a significant function of the Department of Justice,” said Kenyen R. Brown, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.  “Successful prosecutions of this nature help ensure that the next generation of Americans enjoy the same level of wildlife that we do today.”

According to court documents, Alvarez communicated via email with an individual in Louisiana and eventually exchanged two anhinga tails that Alvarez possessed for a crested caracara tail, a Harris’s hawk tail and $400, which the individual possessed.   Alvarez later sent 14 sets of anhinga tail feathers to this individual and asked the individual to photograph and offer the tails for sale via email.   Alvarez received payment from the Louisiana individual for the anhinga tail feathers that were sold.   A federal search warrant was executed at Alvarez’s home on March 11, 2009, and feathers from several migratory bird species were seized.  

This case resulted from an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement into the illegal commercialization of eagles and other migratory birds protected by federal law.   The investigation was jointly conducted with the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife.   The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama and the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section.