Hunting News

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Former Canadian Mountie Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering Charges Stemming from a Conspiracy to Smuggle Narwhal Tusks

A retired officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pleaded guilty today to 10 money laundering offenses in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  Gregory R. Logan, 59, of St. John, New Brunswick, was extradited to the United States on March 11.  Logan, who has been detained since his extradition, will remain in jail pending his sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. for the District of Maine in Bangor, Maine.

Logan was indicted in the District of Maine in November 2012 and charged with conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering.  All of the counts arose from Logan’s 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.

Logan faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $500,000 fine, per count of conviction.  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 is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James B. Nelson and Lauren D. Steele.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

North Carolina Commercial Fisherman Pleads Guilty to Illegally Harvesting and Selling Atlantic Striped Bass

Dewey W. Willis Jr. of Newport, North Carolina, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, North Carolina, to federal charges regarding the illegal harvest and sale of Atlantic striped bass from federal waters off the coast of North Carolina during 2010, the Justice Department announced today.

This multi-defendant investigation began as a result of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) receiving intelligence and directing the U.S. Coast Guard to board the fishing vessel Lady Samaira in February 2010, based on a complaint that multiple vessels were fishing Striped Bass illegally.  Along with 13 other commercial fishermen, Willis was charged with violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits individuals from transporting, selling or buying fish and wildlife harvested illegally.  Additionally, Willis, along with 11 of these fishermen, also has been charged with filing false reports in connection with the illegally harvested fish.  Specifically, the indictment against Willis alleges that the he transported and sold Atlantic striped bass, knowing that they were unlawfully harvested from federal waters off the coast of North Carolina.  In an effort to hide his illegal fishing activities, Willis, falsely reported harvesting these fish from state waters, where it would have been legal.

Willis is licensed by the state of North Carolina and NOAA to fish in state waters only for striped bass.  The defendant faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 12.

“The illegal poaching of striped bass by commercial fishermen has a major impact on the survival of this iconic fish resource and has the potential to devastate the future livelihoods of law abiding commercial fishermen,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “Today’s plea agreement demonstrates the department’s dedication to pursuing those who fail to respect the law and fail to adequately monitor their harvest to stay within legal limits.” 

“Our office was pleased to partner with the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice in this significant case,” said U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce for the Eastern District of North Carolina.  “This prosecution makes clear that efforts to circumvent laws regulating commercial fishing will be enforced vigorously.”

In early spring each year, wild coastal striped bass, Morone saxatilis, known regionally as “rockfish,” “striper” or “rock,” enter the estuary or river where they were born to spawn and then return to ocean waters to live, migrating along the coastline.  They may live up to 30 years and reach 50 pounds or more.  The population of coastal Atlantic striped bass depends heavily upon the capability of older, larger, female striped bass to successfully reproduce.  

Under federal law, Atlantic striped bass may not be harvested from or possessed in federal waters.  This ban on fishing for Atlantic striped bass in federal waters has been in place since 1990 due to drastic declines of the stock that occurred in the 1970’s.  North Carolina allows fishermen to harvest fish from state waters, but often limits fishermen to no more than 100 fish per fishing trip.  Commercial fishermen are required to report on a fishing vessel trip report the fish harvested from state waters; that report is then submitted to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  NOAA uses the information on this report to assess the fishery and its sustainability throughout the eastern seaboard.

According to the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission, “striped bass have formed the basis of one of the most important fisheries on the Atlantic coast for centuries.  Early records recount their abundance as being so great at one time they were used to fertilize fields.  However, overfishing and poor environmental conditions lead to the collapse of the fishery in the 1980s.”

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, along with other states, has reduced the catch limits for the 2015 striped bass commercial fishing season in the Atlantic Ocean and Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River areas, citing a decline in stocks.  The division cited 2013 surveys revealing that the female spawning stock has been steadily declining.  The reduction applies to all commercial and recreational striped bass fishing for all the eastern coastal states.

The Lacey Act makes it unlawful for a person to transport or sell fish that were taken in violation of any law or regulation of the United States and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, plus the potential forfeiture of the vessels and vehicles used in committing the offense.

The investigation was conducted by the Law Enforcement Offices of NOAA, with assistance of the Investigative Service from the U.S. Coast Guard, the North Carolina Marine Patrol and the Virginia Marine Police.  This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Shennie Patel of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Virginia Resident Pleads Guilty to Engaging in the Sale of American Black Bear Parts

Vu Johnnie Nguyen of Virginia Beach, Virginia, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Asheville, North Carolina, to federal charges for unlawfully trafficking in American black bear gall bladders and other American black bear parts, the Justice Department announced.  The conviction arose from a year-long investigation into Nguyen’s unlawful purchase, sale and transportation of American black bear parts from the Western District of North Carolina.  Bear gall bladders and paws are often used in Asian traditional medicine markets.

“The American Black Bear is a beautiful sight to behold by hikers and campers in the Blue Ridge Mountains and elsewhere in North America, and we will not allow their parts, such as gall bladders, to be taken and sold,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “Black bears are a protected species under both U.S. and North Carolina laws and we will prosecute those who attempt to deal illegally in their parts."

“Nguyen repeatedly engaged in the illegal trafficking of American black bear gall bladders and other parts, a crime that is both reprehensible and a violation of federal and state laws,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina Jill Westmoreland Rose. “The abundance of American black bears in western North Carolina mountains often attracts the attention of traffickers looking for a steady source of supply of bear parts to satisfy the ever growing demand in domestic and foreign black markets.  Nguyen’s prosecution speaks to our commitment to protect our wildlife resources and to apply stringent punishment to those who ignore the law for profit.”

“When we think of the victims of wildlife trafficking, it’s elephants and rhinos in Africa, tigers in India and parrots in South America that usually come to mind; but there are many animals and plants here in the United States that are also repeatedly subjected to poaching for illegal international trade, including black bear,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.  “This case shows our continued commitment to bringing criminals who deprive our children of the chance to see these magnificent creatures to justice.”

Nguyen entered his guilty plea before U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Howell for the Western District of North Carolina —specifically, a felony charge under the Lacey Act.  The Lacey Act is the federal law that makes it illegal to transport or sell wildlife taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of state law.  Animal parts, like American black bear gall bladders, paws, claws and meat are considered wildlife under both the Lacey Act and North Carolina law and under North Carolina law, it is illegal for anyone to possess for sale or buy any bear or bear parts.

According to the documents filed with the court, Nguyen illegally engaged in conduct that involved the sale and purchase and intent to sell 18 American black bear gall bladders, 16 American black bear claws, two American black bear paws and approximately 50 pounds of American black bear meat in 2014.  Nguyen further admitted that on three separate occasions—Jan. 6, 2014, March 5, 2014, and Dec. 17, 2014—he knowingly transported or caused to be transported American black bear parts when he knew that they were sold in violation of North Carolina law.

Nguyen faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  As part of the agreement, he has agreed to publish a statement apologizing for his illegal conduct.

The case is prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section Trial Attorney Shennie Patel and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina in Asheville.  The case was investigated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Division of Law Enforcement.