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Two sentenced for harassing baby panthers 

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Two men have been sentenced for snagging panther babies from their den and sharing the experience on social media. Below is a recap from the Department of Justice.

Florida panther. Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife

Fort Myers, FL – On December 27, 2018, U.S. Magistrate Judge Carol Mirando sentenced Javier Torres (42, Miami) to 14 days’ imprisonment for harassing two endangered Florida panther kittens. 

The court also ordered Torres to pay a $1,000 fine, and sentenced him to complete 200 hours of community service and to serve three years’ probation. On December 18, 2018, Judge Mirando sentenced Alfredo Lopez de Queralta (46, Miami) to complete 100 hours of community service and serve two years’ probation in connection with the same incident. Both men previously pleaded guilty on September 12, 2018. 

According to court documents, in February 2017, Torres crawled into a Florida panther den in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County and unlawfully removed two panther kittens. Lopez de Queralta filmed Torres as he displayed the kittens for the camera. Later, Lopez de Queralta uploaded and shared segments of the video on YouTube.

Florida panthers are considered to be among the most critically endangered large mammal species in the world, and experts estimate fewer than 200 Florida panthers are alive today.

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Sawfish smuggling plea

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  A Virginia antiques dealer who once bragged that selling illegally imported sawfish blades was worth the risk because it would bring in more money has been ordered to forfeit $275,000 and faces possible prison time. 

Here are the details from the U.S. Department of Justice:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The owner of an antiques and specialty shop in Middleburg pleaded guilty Dec. 19, 2018, to violating the Lacey Act by illegally selling and transporting between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of items made from endangered species, migratory birds, and other wildlife.

According to court documents, Keith Foster, 60, of Upperville, was the owner of The Outpost LLC. The Outpost specialized in selling foreign-sourced merchandise, a portion of which included wildlife products made from endangered species such as crocodiles, sea turtles, and sawfish. To evade enforcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Foster relied on a shipping company to falsify import records in order to hide wildlife items and avoid inspection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other law enforcement officials.

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Fin-dictment in shark harvest

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  Members of a fishing vessel have been charged with harvesting sharks for the fin of it. More from the Department of Justice:

HONOLULU – The owner and officers of a Japanese-flagged fishing vessel were charged in federal court today with aiding and abetting the trafficking and smuggling of 962 shark fins into and out of Hawaii on Nov. 7, 2018. 

According to court documents and information presented in court, the Japanese-flagged fishing vessel, M.V. Kyoshin Maru No. 20, engaged in longline tuna fishing in the southern Pacific Ocean for approximately one year. 

 The officers were Japanese nationals, and the fishermen were Indonesian nationals. During the voyage, the fishermen harvested fins from approximately 300 sharks, in some instances while the sharks were stunned but still alive, and discarded the finless carcasses into the ocean, all under the supervision of the Captain, and at the direction of the Fishing Master and First Engineer. The Captain, Fishing Master, First Engineer, and many of the Indonesian fishermen all kept shark fins to take home with them.

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Wildlife charges added in murder plot investigation

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From the Department of Justice:

Nov.7, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY –Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joseph Allen Maldonado, Joseph Allen Schreibvogel, and “Joe Exotic,” 55, formerly of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, has been charged in a 21-count superseding indictment that includes the two previously charged murder-for-hire counts and also alleges nineteen wildlife crimes, including the alleged killing of five tigers and the illegal sale of tiger cubs, in violation of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma. 

  On September 5, 2018, a federal grand jury returned an indictment that accuses Maldonado-Passage of hiring an unnamed person in November 2017 to murder “Jane Doe” in Florida. According to the indictment, Maldonado-Passage gave the unnamed person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to South Carolina and then to Florida to carry out the murder. He allegedly agreed to pay thousands more after the deed. The indictment alleges Maldonado-Passage caused the person to travel to Dallas to get fake identification for use in the plot. According to the indictment, the person traveled from Oklahoma to South Carolina on November 26, 2017.

In a second count, the September 5 indictment alleges that beginning in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly asked a different unnamed person to find someone to murder Jane Doe in exchange for money. The second person put Maldonado-Passage in contact with an undercover FBI agent. Maldonado-Passage met with the undercover agent on December 8, 2017, to discuss details of murdering Jane Doe.

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No place like home, slippers recovered

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Dawn Wallace, a conservator for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, analyzes one of the recovered slippers at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Lab in Washington, D.C. (Smithsonian photo)

 from the FBI:

A pair of ruby slippers featured in the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz and stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in 2005, was seized in a sting operation conducted in Minneapolis earlier this summer.
While the FBI has identified suspects and has executed multiple search warrants in Minnesota and Florida in connection with the investigation, investigators are seeking the public’s help to identify all parties associated with the initial theft and the more recent scheme to defraud and extort the Markel Corporation, the owner of the slippers.

The ruby slippers are one of several pairs used in the production of the movie classic. Only four pairs of the shoes used in the film are known to remain and are widely viewed as among the most recognizable memorabilia in American film history. Current estimates value the slippers in the millions of dollars should they be sold at auction.

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Govermnent seek forfeiture of “One Ancient Mosaic”

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ancient mosaic depicting Hercules

 
LOS ANGELES – The United States in May filed an asset forfeiture complaint against an ancient mosaic depicting Hercules, believed to have been made in the 3rd or 4th Century, that likely was looted from war-torn Syria, allegedly illegally imported into the United States, and seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations at a Palmdale residence.

The mosaic, which is approximately 18 feet long and weighs approximately one ton, was seized by FBI and HSI special agents in March 2016 as part of an investigation into the smuggling of looted items believed to be from a foreign conflict area into the United States.

The complaint, which was filed in United States District court under the caption United States v. One Ancient Mosiac, alleges that a Palmdale man smuggled the antiquity into the United States with false and fraudulent documents with the intent to avoid import duties.

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Kentucky man sentenced for raiding Native American graves

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  Louisville, Ky. – U.S. District Court judge sentenced Gary Womack, 60, of Woodburn, Kentucky, to 15 months in prison for three felony violations of the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) on June 6, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The case resulted from a three-year undercover investigation by the National Park Service, based upon allegations that Womack possessed human remains which originated from Mammoth Cave National Park. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assisted Park Service agents throughout.
The undercover investigation revealed Womack’s dealings in artifacts removed from the graves of Native Americans buried in caves and rock shelters in South Central Kentucky and also burials from as far away as the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Womack dealt in artifacts from the so-called “G.E. Mound” case prosecuted in the Southern District of Indiana in 1992. 

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Bodies of missing hikers found in Alaska

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Copper Center, Alaska – National Park Service rangers recovered the bodies of two hikers who were swept away by a glacial river in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park on July 2. According to a Park Service release, identification by NPS law enforcement matches that of two backpackers that were last seen on June 22 when they were dropped off by an air taxi operator at the Sanford Glacier airstrip less than two miles from where the bodies were found.

The backpackers were identified as 62-year old Rochelle Renken and 62-year old Michael Huffman, both from Columbia, Missouri. The couple were experienced backpackers and Renken has been to Alaska several times in the past and had previous experience crossing Alaskan rivers. Positive identification is pending from the State Medical Examiner. The deaths appear to be accidental. No foul play is suspected.

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Another Columbus letter makes it home

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MayflowerWILMINGTON, Delaware — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigation Philadelphia special agents and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware returned Thursday a more than 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discoveries in the Americas to the Vatican during a repatriation ceremony at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (the “Vatican Library) in Vatican City. The letter, originally written in 1493, was stolen from the Vatican Library and later sold in 2004 for approximately $875,000. This is the third Christopher Columbus’ letter repatriation in the past two years.

The return marks the second Columbus letter to be returned this months and the third in recent years.

In or around Dec. 1921, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus donated a copy of the Columbus Letter (along with thousands of other rare books and manuscripts) to Pope Benedict XV. The Columbus Letter was preserved in the Vatican Library. After receiving a copy of the Columbus Letter, at no time did the Vatican City State or the Vatican Library relinquish title to this document. In or around 1934, a detailed description of the Vatican Library’s copy of the Columbus Letter was cataloged in the census copies of the standard bibliography of fifteenth-century printing, otherwise known as the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (volume VI, Leipzig, 1934, no. 7177). At an unknown time and date, the Columbus Letter was stolen from the Vatican Library and replaced with a forgery, which was designed to appear like the original letter.

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Columbus letter returned

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Photo courtesy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

WASHINGTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice returned a more than 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discoveries in the Americas to Spain during an evening repatriation ceremony at the Residence of the Spanish Ambassador to the United States on June 6, 2018.

The letter, originally written in 1493, was stolen from the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and sold for approximately $1 million.

In March 2013, it was discovered that the Columbus Letter believed to have been stolen from Barcelona was reportedly sold for 900,000 euros in June 2011. Following extensive negotiations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, the individual in possession of the letter volunteered to transfer custody to HSI Special Agents, which was then brought to Wilmington, Delaware in February 2014 for further examination. In March 2014, a subject matter expert evaluated the letter and determined that the document was “beyond all doubt” the original stolen from the National Library of Catalonia.

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Plea in whale teeth trafficking

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John “Jake” Bell, of Lakeville, Connecticut, pleaded guilty June 6 to illegally trafficking teeth from endangered sperm whales.

Bell pleaded guilty today in Boston to one count of wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act. As part of his plea, Bell admitted that in November 2004, while in the Ukraine, he sold approximately 34 sperm whale teeth to a co-conspirator who resided in Nantucket, Massachusetts, for $11,600. Bell shipped the 34 teeth in multiple boxes from the Ukraine to an associate in Connecticut, from where his co-conspirator retrieved them. Bell’s co-conspirator was convicted in 2010 after a jury trial and sentenced to 33 months in prison.

According to the indictment, Bell acquired the teeth and smuggled them into the United States. Bell, who was an artist and scrimshander, carved some of the teeth he sold, but also sold uncarved teeth to customers. According to papers filed in federal court, between July 2005 and June 2006, Bell smuggled in excess of 49 pounds of sperm whale teeth into the United States, valued in excess of $26,000. Also, according to these filings, between June 2007 and April 2008, Bell sold nine carved teeth to customers in the United States, with a total value of $20,300. 

The Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act protects sperm whales and prohibits their parts from being sold in interstate or foreign commerce or imported into the United States without a permit.

Artifacts from Hobby Lobby probe returned to Iraq

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ICE returned 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and clay bullae, to the Republic of Iraq. The artifacts were smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer. Contributed photo.

 
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and clay bullae, to the Republic of Iraq. The artifacts were smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer.

Many of the tablets can be shown to come from the ancient city of Irisagrig. The tablets, primarily from the Ur III and Old Babylonian period (2100-1600 BCE), are mostly legal and administrative documents, but also include an important collection of Early Dynastic incantations and a bilingual religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period. Two clay cones are inscribed with royal inscriptions from the Early Dynastic Lagash II periods (mid-third millennium BCE). The clay bullae include artifacts believed to be of Parthian or Sasanian date (late 2nd cent. BCE – early 7th cent. AD).

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