Hunting News

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Irish National Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for Trafficking of Endangered Rhinoceros Horn Libation Cup



Michael Hegarty, an Irish national, was sentenced in federal court in Miami, Florida, today to 18 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for fraudulently facilitating the transportation and concealment of a libation cup carved from the horn of an endangered rhinoceros, announced Jeffrey H. Wood, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, and Benjamin G. Greenberg, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. U.S. District Court Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks issued the sentence.

In May 2014, a federal grand jury sitting in Miami, Florida, returned an indictment charging Michael Hegarty and a co-defendant with conspiring to traffic a libation cup made from an endangered rhinoceros. In addition to conspiracy, the indictment included charges for smuggling the cup from the United States to the United Kingdom and for obstructing justice by attempting to influence a witness. According to the indictment, and a Joint Factual Statement by the parties, Hegarty, along with co-defendant Richard Sheridan and a Florida resident, purchased the libation cup from an auction house in North Carolina. The group then transported the cup to Florida and falsified documentation to smuggle the cup from the United States.

“Today’s sentencing is the result of the strong partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those who engage in illegal trade in protected wildlife,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “There is a frequent connection between wildlife smuggling and organized criminal activity.  We remain committed to combatting this illegality.”

“We are committed to combatting international wildlife trafficking,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg.  “Our experienced prosecutors and law enforcement agents will continue to investigate, prosecute and bring to justice any violators who exploit and destroy protected wildlife for profit.”

“Today’s sentencing sends a message to those who profit from the slaughter and illicit trade of wildlife, you will be caught and prosecuted no matter where you hide,” said Ed Grace, Acting Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I commend our special agents who connected this defendant to the Rathkeale Rovers, a transnational organized crime syndicate responsible for trafficking endangered rhinoceros products worldwide.  Thank you to our international counterparts and to the U.S. Department of Justice for arresting, extraditing, and prosecuting this individual.”

Rhinoceros are 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 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 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.

Hegarty was arrested on Jan. 19, 2017, in Belgium pursuant to an international Red Notice submitted by the United States. Red Notices are requests, coordinated through Interpol, that ask member countries to provisionally arrest fugitives within their borders so that extradition proceedings can begin. In July 2017, Belgium extradited Hegarty to the United States for his role in trafficking a libation cup made from the horn of an endangered rhinoceros. Hegarty’s arrest and subsequent extradition were part of “Operation Crash,” a nationwide crackdown on criminal trafficking in rhinoceros horns.

Federal courts determine a sentencing range for every convicted defendant. This range is found by applying factors that are common for particular crimes, as set out in the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Although guidelines are advisory, many courts do sentence within the range. Hegarty’s eighteen month sentence was the high end of the sentencing range for his crime.

Operation Crash was conducted by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in coordination with other federal and local law enforcement agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros.  Operation Crash was an effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.

The investigation by was handled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section are in charge of the prosecution.

Friday, November 10, 2017

New York Man Pleads Guilty to Trafficking in Endangered Lion and Tiger Parts



Arongkron “Paul” Malasukum, a resident of Woodside, New York, pleaded guilty today to illegally trafficking parts from endangered African lions and tigers.

The guilty plea was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wood for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Brit Featherston, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.  

Malasukum, 41, pleaded guilty today in Plano, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson for the Eastern District of Texas, to a one count information charging him with wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.   

In papers filed in federal court in April 2016, Malasukum admitted to purchasing a tiger skull from undercover agents who were working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Malasukum also admitted to purchasing lion skulls from an auction house in Texas through the undercover agents on another occasion.  The agents were acting as “straw buyers” for Malasukum. Malasukum, who knew his out-of-state purchases could draw attention from federal law enforcement, gave the undercover agents cash and told them which items to bid on and ultimately win. After the purchases, Malasukum shipped the tiger and lion skulls from Texas to his home in Woodside, New York. From New York, Malasukum shipped the skulls to Thailand for sale to a wholesale buyer.

As part of his plea, Malasukum admitted that between April 9, 2015 and June 29, 2016, he exported approximately 68 packages containing skulls, claws, and parts from endangered and protected species, with a total fair market value in excess of $150,000. All of the exports were sent to Thailand.

“This guilty plea is another positive result from the continued partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “Together we will continue to investigate and prosecute those who engage in illegal trade in protected wildlife.”

“Reasonable laws are in place to protect endangered animals, and to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to see and enjoy wildlife as we do today,” said Acting United States Attorney Featherston. “There are fewer than four thousand tigers remaining in the wild and they must be protected from harm. Malasukum’s illegal actions breed further destructive behavior by others, such as the poaching of other endangered animals for greed.  Lawful hunting and conservation go hand in hand; and law enforcement will protect those animals that are deemed endangered.”

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works to combat the illegal international and interstate trafficking of wildlife,” said Acting Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ed Grace.  “We work closely with the Department of Justice and others to investigate these cases and will continue to apprehend those who exploit these species for commercial gain.”

The investigation was handled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.  The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Noble and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Maine Fisherman Sentenced for Illegally Trafficking American Eels



Tommy Water Zhou was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment today for trafficking juvenile American eels (also called “elvers” or “glass eels”) in violation of the Lacey Act, following a hearing in federal district court in Norfolk, Virginia. The sentence was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and United States Attorney Dana J. Boente for the Eastern District of Virginia.

In April 2017, Zhou pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act by purchasing elvers in interstate commerce that had been harvested illegally in Virginia.  Court documents indicate that Zhou trafficked at least 105 pounds of elvers, which is approximately 210,000 individual eels, and worth more than $105,000.  Zhou subsequently sold these elvers to international buyers and exported them from the United States.

“Illegal harvesting and trafficking of wildlife represents a dire threat to our critical ecosystems,” said U.S. Attorney Boente.  “This case reaffirms our commitment to protecting Virginia’s natural resources for future generations.”

“Wildlife trafficking is a transnational crime which devastates species both at home and abroad,” said Acting Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ed Grace. “In this case, the defendant chose to illegally harvest American eels – the only species of freshwater eel found in North America. This animal plays a critical role in native ecosystems and is negatively impacted by the illegal wildlife trade. We will continue to work with the Department of Justice and others to protect this species and bring those who choose profit over preservation to justice.”

Eels are highly valued in East Asia for human consumption.  Historically, Japanese and European eels were harvested to meet this demand; however, overfishing has led to a decline in these populations.  As a result, harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void.

American eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, an area of the North Atlantic Ocean bounded on all sides by ocean currents.  They then travel as larvae from the Sargasso to the coastal waters of the eastern United States, where they enter a juvenile or elver stage, swim upriver, and grow to adulthood in fresh water.  Elvers are exported for aquaculture in East Asia, where they are raised to adult size and sold for food.  Harvesters and exporters of American eels in the United States can sell elvers to East Asia for more than $2,000 per pound.

Because of the threat of overfishing, Atlantic Coast states have cooperatively prohibited elver harvesting in all but two states: Maine and South Carolina.  Maine and South Carolina heavily regulate elver fisheries, requiring that individuals be licensed and report all quantities of harvested eels to state authorities.  Other Atlantic coast states, including Virginia, have commercial fisheries for adult or “yellow” eels. 

This case was the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-jurisdiction U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels.  To date, the investigation has resulted in guilty pleas for 18 individuals whose combined conduct resulted in the illegal trafficking of more than $5 million worth of elvers.

“In this operation, we are actively partnering with state and federal law enforcement agencies in order to protect our nation's marine resources from further exploitation.” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood.

Operation Broken Glass was conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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, and Assistant United States Attorney Joseph Kosky.