Hunting News

Saturday, August 22, 2015

California Man Pleads Guilty to the Sale of Horns from a Black Rhinoceros

Lumsden W. Quan, 47, an art dealer from San Francisco, California, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to violate the Lacey and Endangered Species Act and to a violation of the Lacey Act for knowingly selling black rhinoceros horns to an undercover agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  His co-defendant, Edward N. Levine, charged in the indictment remains scheduled for trial on Oct. 19, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden for the District of Nevada and Director Dan Ashe for USFWS.

Quan pleaded guilty before the Honorable Chief Judge Gloria M. Navarro in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, Nevada, to all charges in the indictment. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 3, 2015. Quan 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.

Quan admitted in federal court to conspiring with co-defendant Levine to sell two black rhinoceros horns to an undercover agent posing as a Colorado wildlife collector.  Quan stated that he and Levine arranged to have the horns transported to Las Vegas, where on March 19, 2014, Quan sold them to the agent for $55,000.  Quan faces a maximum sentence of five-years imprisonment.

The black rhinoceros is an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth.  They have no known predators other than humans.  All species of rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law, including the Endangered Species Act.  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 170 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 USFWS’s Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.  The government is represented by Trial Attorneys Jennifer Blackwell and Ryan Connors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Newman, and paralegal Amanda Backer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Jury Convicts New Jersey Man of Illegally Trafficking in Paddlefish

A New Jersey man was convicted in federal court today of illegally trafficking in paddlefish caviar after being caught in stemming from an undercover operation in the Warsaw, Missouri, area, announced the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri.

In support of Missouri’s paddlefish conservation efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation conducted an undercover investigation known as “Operation Roadhouse,” centered on an area known as the Roadhouse in Warsaw.  As part of the operation, state and federal officers operated a paddlefish snagging business during the 2011 and 2012 paddlefish seasons. 

Petr Babenko, 45, of Vineland, New Jersey, was found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to illegally buy and sell paddlefish and one count of illegally trafficking in paddlefish in violation of the Lacey Act.  Babenko owned European International Foods, a specialty grocery business in Vineland.

Codefendant Bogdan Nahapetyan, 37, an Armenian citizen residing in Lake Ozark, Missouri, pleaded guilty on Nov. 12, 2013, to illegally trafficking in paddlefish.

Neither Babenko nor Nahapetyan had a valid roe fish dealer permit.  Evidence introduced during the trial indicated that they possessed paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in excess of the Missouri possession limits and transported the paddlefish and paddlefish eggs across state lines.

For example, on April 24, 2012, Babenko and Nahapetyan negotiated with the undercover investigators to purchase 80 pounds of paddlefish eggs and five female paddlefish for $4,625.  While loading the purchased caviar and female paddlefish into their van, they placed an additional order with the undercover investigators for more fish and caviar.

Following the presentation of evidence, the jury in the U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, Missouri, deliberated for about 35 minutes before returning the guilty verdict to U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Bough, ending a trial that began Aug. 17, 2015.

In separate cases that arose from the undercover investigation, five additional defendants have pleaded guilty to trafficking in paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in violation of the Lacey Act: Fedor Pakhnyuk, 41, of Hinsdale, Illinois, Felix Baravik, 50, and Arkadiy Lvovskiy, 54, both of Aurora, Colorado, Dmitri Elitchev, 49, of Centennial, Colorado, and Artour Magdessian, 48, of Lone Tree, Colorado.

Under federal statutes, Babenko is subject to a sentence of up to ten years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $500,000.  Babenko must forfeit to the government a 2011 Mercedes Benz cargo van that was used to commit the offense.  A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

The Lacey Act is a federal statute which makes it unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase fish that were taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any state, or to attempt to do so.  Such conduct constitutes a felony crime if the defendant knowingly engaged in conduct involving the purchase or sale, offer to purchase or sell, or intent to purchase or sell, fish with a market value in excess of $350, knowing that the fish were taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of, or in a manner unlawful under, a law or regulation of any state.

The American paddlefish (Polydon spathula), also called the Mississippi paddlefish or the “spoonbill,” is a freshwater fish that is primarily found in the Mississippi River drainage system.  Paddlefish eggs are marketed as caviar.  The retail value of the caviar is estimated to be between $30,000 and $50,000. Paddlefish were once common in waters throughout the Midwest.  However, the global decline in other caviar sources, such as sturgeon, has led to an increased demand for paddlefish caviar. This increased demand has led to over-fishing of paddlefish and consequent decline of the paddlefish population.

Missouri law prohibits the transportation of paddlefish eggs which have been removed or extracted from a paddlefish carcass.  Missouri law also prohibits the sale or purchase, or offer of sale or purchase, of paddlefish eggs.  There are also several restrictions on the purchase and possession of whole paddlefish in Missouri.

This case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney James B. Nelson of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence E. Miller of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri.  It was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation, with assistance by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rarest sea turtle nests found at CCAFS have hatched

by 1st Lt. Alicia Premo
45th Space Wing Public Affairs

8/13/2015 - CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla.  -- The rarest and most endangered sea turtle in the world was discovered nesting on the beaches of CCAFS for the first time recorded May 14, 2015, and then again May 28, 2015. Following an incubation period of approximately two months, both nests hatched, were excavated, or carefully uncovered, after a period of three days and the results were recorded.

The Kemp's ridley is one of the smallest sea turtles, with adults growing to about two feet in length and weighing up to about 100 pounds, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Its numbers have been declining since 1947, when there was an estimated 40,000 nesting females in a single arribada--a mass nesting of turtles occurring at one time--and only 20,507 total nests, a single female typically lays more than one nest, in 2011.

"I am incredibly happy to report that both Kemp's ridley nests have hatched and both were incredibly successful," said Angy Chambers, 45th Civil Engineer Squadron biological scientist. "Martha and I have been keeping a close eye on both nests during their incubation period," said Chambers about Martha Carroll, also of the 45th SW CES, biological scientist.

The first nest hatched July 11, 2015, 58 days after being deposited. This nest produced 99 hatchlings, with every egg except one successfully hatching, resulting in a 99 percent hatch success rate. Hatch rates are highly variable between different species of sea turtles, on different beaches, and from one year to the next.

At CCAFS and Patrick Air Force Base, the hatch rate averages 50-70 percent for Loggerhead sea turtles, the most common nesting species, according to Chambers.

The second nest hatched on July 21, 2015, 54 days after being deposited. This nest produced 72 hatchlings, with only four eggs left unhatched, resulting in a 95 percent hatch success rate.

Combined, these nests resulted in more than 160 Kemp's ridley hatchlings leaving the CCAFS beach and making their way into their ocean habitat.

"We are incredibly proud of the success of both of these nests and although very few hatchlings survive to adulthood, we are hopeful that at least one of them will return to nest at the CCAFS beach in the future," said Carroll. Kemp's ridley are believed to reach maturity at 12 years, and it is common for them to return to their birth beach to nest, according to Carroll.

In addition to Kemp's ridley, the 45th SW biologists have been busy tracking three other species of nesting sea turtles. As of July 31, 2015, CCAFS has had a total of 2,179 Loggerhead sea turtle nests, 201 Green sea turtle nests, and nine Leatherback sea turtle nests. PAFB had a total of 913 Loggerhead nests, 53 Green nests, and one Leatherback nest.

CCAFS is on track to have a record breaking Green sea turtle year. The previous record was 335 nests in 2013. With almost two months left of the nesting season, the 45 SW biologists are optimistic that number will surpass this year.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Florida Man Pleads Guilty to Multiple Lacey Act Violations for Trading Illegal Snakes

Gerard Kruse, 42, a social worker who lives in Oviedo, Florida, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, to 13 Lacey Act violations for his role in the trade of illegally caught snakes, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced.

Kruse pleaded guilty to seven counts of illegal transport of wildlife and six counts of illegal receipt of wildlife, which under the facts of the case are misdemeanors under the Lacey Act.  At the time of the crimes, Kruse was living in Douglaston, New York.  In court documents, Kruse admitted that between 2008 and 2012, he knowingly participated in violations, which involved the illegal collection, transport and receipt of 59 snakes that were collected from and protected by various states, such as New Jersey, California and Oregon.  Under the Lacey Act, it is illegal to knowingly ship or receive snakes in interstate commerce that were taken in violation of state law.  During the course of his conduct, Kruse personally collected protected snakes and shipped them to collectors in other states.  Sometimes he received money for the reptiles; other times he bartered snakes.  In addition, Kruse would solicit snakes from out-of-state collectors, while knowing that those collectors had procured their snakes illegally.  The last charge of the information deals with Kruse’s involvement in the shipment of a diamondback rattlesnake from Texas to Douglaston in a coffee can, in violation of U.S. Postal regulations.  

The Lacey Act is an important statute for protecting our nation’s wildlife against those who make enforcement of state laws difficult by crossing state lines with protected species,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “All of our protected species, including reptiles, are important to our ecosystems and must be shielded from such illegal trafficking. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously support efforts against domestic wildlife trafficking.”

According to the terms of the pela agreement, the government will seek 13 months of home confinement with electronic monitoring, a request which is unopposed by the defense.  In addition, Kruse has agreed to be placed on probation and subject to special conditions such as forfeiture of his snakes and being banned from the collection, sale and trade of reptiles and amphibians.  Terms of Kruse’s sentence that the parties could not agree on will be decided at a sentencing hearing set for Dec. 15, 2015.

The case was investigated by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of Operation Kingsnake.  The case is being prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division.