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Two charged with theft of relic gold bar

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  Two men have been charged in the theft of a gold bar from a Key West, Florida, museum in 2010. According to the U.S. Department of Justice:

The defendants are accused of driving to Key West from West Palm Beach on or about August 18, 2010, and entering the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum. It is alleged that Jared Alexander Goldman, 32, of Palm Beach Gardens stood guard as a lookout to enable Richard Steven Johnson, 41, of Rio Linda, Calif., to steal the gold bar. Johnson then allegedly removed the gold bar from its display case at the museum and both defendants then drove back to West Palm Beach. The gold bar has not been recovered.

The 75-ounce bar was originally found in 1980 in the wreck of the Spanish galleon Santa Margarita, which sank in 1622. It had been on display in an acrylic case that allowed museum visitors to lift the bar. 

It had been valued at $550,000.

More about the museum can be found here

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Jail sentence in timber theft

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courtesy photo

 A Washington state man has Ben sentenced to 30 days in jail for chopping down a big leaf maple on federal land near Olympic National Park. Authorities said 63-year-old Michael Welches and others sold the wood to an instrument maker.

According to the Department of Justice:

On November 11, 2013, a neighbor residing near the Elwha restoration project lands notified the Park Service that he had heard chainsaws in the middle of the night. The neighbor said he saw people in the woods wearing headlamps. The neighbor reported similar activity a few nights later. The ranger investigated in daylight and found a felled big leaf maple. He asked the neighbor to call him directly if he heard or saw additional activity. The next night, at 1:00 AM the neighbor alerted the ranger. Law enforcement responded and arrested WELCHES and two codefendants as they were cutting and loading the felled maple. A receipt indicated the men had sold the wood to a Quilcene, Washington music wood supplier. Wood retrieved from that supplier matched the wood from the felled maple. 

The value of the timber as music wood is estimated to be $8,766.
Welches has a prior conviction from 2004 for cutting in a state timber trust, according to DOJ.

A second defendant, Matthew Hutto, has pleaded guilty is awaiting sentencing, and a third man, Richard Welches, is being sought by law enforcement. 

Cow head and two torsos returned to Lebanon

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  The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recently sent three sculptures looted from the Temple of Eshmun back to Lebanon The objects had been seized with a court warrant, and the owners surrendered them after learning of their background, according to the DA’s office. The items include:

— Torso E1912: In November, a marble torso, circa the 4th century B.C.E., was recovered from a private owner who acquired it after the statue was excavated in the 1970s from the Temple of Eshmun, an ancient place of worship near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon. The item was subsequently stolen during the Lebanese Civil War and sold by an antiquities dealer before being shipped to New York.

— The Calf Bearer: In October, another marble torso, circa the 6th century B.C.E. and valued at approximately $4.5 million, was recovered from a private owner who acquired the artifact after it too was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1970s, stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, and sold to private collectors.

— The Bull’s Head: In July, a marble bull’s head, circa 360 B.C.E. and valued at approximately $1.2 million, was recovered from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan for display by a private collector who acquired the statue after it was also was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1960s, transferred to the Byblos Citadel in Jubayl, stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, and sold to private collectors..

Two sentenced for deerknapping

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Caution: Deer onboard

 Two Florida residents have been sentenced for allegedly capturing endangered deer that were found in their vehicle during a traffic stop.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the two took protected Florida Key deer on Big Pine Key in July, 2017.

They used food to lure the three deer to them and then captured the deer. The defendants trussed up the deer and then placed them in their vehicle …
After departing the Big Pine Key area in their car, southbound on the Overseas Highway, the defendants were stopped as a result of a traffic infraction and the three deer found in the vehicle – the adult male in the trunk, and a juvenile male along with a doe, confined in the back seat of the car.

No word on where they were taking the deer. The actions resulted in injury to the adult male Key deer, which suffered a fractured leg and had to be euthanized by authorities, according to DOJ..

Lions and tigers and skulls, oh my

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  A New York has pleaded to buying endangered tiger and lion parts with the help of straw men and shipping the parts abroad.

Arongkron “Paul” Malasukum, of Woodside, pleaded Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, to wildlife trafficking in U.S. District Court for Eastern Texas in Plano.

According to the Department of Justice: 

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.

Mosaic floor from Caligula’s ship returned to Italy

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  A collection of ancient Roman artifacts that included a mosaic from one of Caligula’s Lake Nemi pleasure ships was repatriated to Italy on Oct. 20, 2017, following a multiagency investigation, which included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations..

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

In September, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized a section of ancient mosaic flooring pursuant to a search warrant and an ongoing joint investigation into the trafficking of stolen antiquities. The marble flooring section, which dates back to 35 A.D., was originally part of an ornate ship commissioned by the Roman emperor Caligula at Lake Nemi. Following the emperor’s assassination, the ship sank and remained underwater for nearly 2,000 years, until it was excavated in the 1920s.

… The recovery was ordered by dictator Benito Mussolini, who had the lake drained …

In 1936, the Ships of Nemi Museum was completed to display the ships and the items excavated from them, including the sections of the inlaid mosaic marble floor. The Museum was later used as a bomb shelter during World War II and many of the original tiles were subsequently destroyed or damaged by fire, rendering the mosaic floor piece one of the only known, intact artifacts of its kind from the Ships of Nemi.

Earlier this year and as part of the same investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized a Paestan red-figure bell-krater, a wide, round wine vessel circa 360-350 B.C., from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as a Campanian red-figure fish-plate, circa 340-320 B.C., from a Christie’s auction.   

All the items were seized pursuant to judicially authorized warrants, but were thereafter forfeited willingly once the owners were presented with the evidence that each had been stolen from Italy.

No word on whether 2,000 years at the bottom of a lake and a World War II bombing cleaned all the Caligula-era party grime from the mosaic floor.

Also, ICE didn’t mention that the mosaic section had been found repurposed into a coffee table.

Coral indictments

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  LOS ANGELES – A federal grand jury has returned three indictments charging three people and two companies with trading live corals protected by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

According to the U.S.Department of Justice:

Renaissance Aquatics, Inc. and Lim Aqua-Nautic Specialist, Inc. – both located in Inglewood – and Chet Bryant, 37, of Houston, were charged with unlawfully importing live, CITES-protected corals from Vietnam and submitting false records to conceal their unlawful activity on seven occasions over a five-month period. According to court documents in this case, the corals were hidden from view in shipments containing other wildlife. The indictment also charges Renaissance and Bryant with conspiracy and attempting to unlawfully export live coral.

Jose Torres, 42, of Gardena, was charged with unlawfully attempting to export to Mexico 20 varieties of live, CITES-protected corals. The indictment also alleges that Torres submitted false records to the USFWS that omitted the corals and understated the size of the shipment.

Jorge Vazquez, 39, of Garden Grove, was charged with unlawfully attempting to export live, CITES-protected corals. Transportation Security Administration officers found the corals hidden in Pringles potato chip cans during a baggage inspection at Los Angeles International Airport. Vazquez later admitted that he packed the corals into the Pringles cans, then placed the cans in his mother’s luggage for her to transport to Mexico.

Prision sentence in narwhal tusk case

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From the U.S. Department of Justice:

A resident of Brinnon, Washington, was sentenced last week in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to six months in prison and a $25,000 fine for trafficking ivory from protected species. David L. Boone, who operates Boone Trading Company, participated in an operation that illegally smuggled narwhal tusks taken from the threatened Arctic whales into the United States from Canada, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Boone also trafficked in sperm whale teeth and walrus tusks.   
According to records filed in the case, between 2006 and 2008, Boone purchased narwhal tusks from a Canadian and a resident of Tennessee. Narwhals are Arctic whales often called the ‘Unicorn of the Sea’ because of their prominent tusk. While native Inuit of northern Canada are allowed to hunt narwhal, it is illegal to import tusks into the United States. Boone purchased tusks knowing they had been smuggled across the border from Canada, he then sold the tusks on the black market at a huge profit.

 Additionally, in October 2011 Boone sold sperm whale teeth to an undercover law enforcement officer, and in February 2012 bought and sold a walrus skull and tusks. The transactions were illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The Canadian exporter of the narwhal tusks plead guilty to multiple counts of money laundering and was sentenced today in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine to more than 5 years in prison. In addition to BOONE, three other United States citizens were prosecuted and convicted for their participation in the narwhal tusk smuggling scheme – one in the District of Maine, and one each in the Districts of Massachusetts and Alaska.

The court directed that the $25,000 criminal fine be paid to the Lacey Act Reward Fund. Monies deposited into this Fund are used to reward persons who furnish information leading to successful enforcement actions against those who traffic in illegally taken fish and wildlife.

Company pleads in Rosewood oil investigation

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From the U.S. Department of Justice:

Young Living Essential Oils, headquartered in Lehi, Utah, pleaded guilty in federal court to federal misdemeanor charges regarding its illegal trafficking of rosewood oil and spikenard oil in violation of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Company voluntarily disclosed its rosewood oil violations and has been cooperating with government investigators. Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, the Company was sentenced to a fine of $500,000 and $135,000 in restitution, a community service payment of $125,000 for the conservation of protected species of plants used in essential oils, and a term of five years’ probation with special conditions. The conditions include the implementation of a corporate compliance plan, audits, and the publication of statements regarding its convictions.

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Plea in Abalone Plot

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From the U.S.Department of Justice: 
  

SAN DIEGO – Chula Vista, Calif., resident Yon Pon Wong pleaded guilty in federal court on Aug. 31, 2017, to illegally importing $3 million of abalone.

In pleading guilty, Wong, doing business as Lucky Company, admitted that he imported the abalone using commercial invoices that falsely identified the seller. The 43 importations Wong referred to occurred between February 2012, and July 2015, and involved a total of approximately 67,500 kilograms (148,500 pounds) of abalone. The invoices falsely stated the seller to be Exportadora De Mariscos De Mexico, SA de CV, at the false address of Calle Cubilete No 110, Fracc Capistrano, Tijuana, Mexico. As part of his plea, Wong agreed to forfeit $500,000 of proceeds of the illegal importation.

Abalone is a highly regulated fishery in Mexico. The laws of Mexico require that commercial invoices have sufficient information on them to allow tracking of the seafood to its lawful origin. An invoice lacking the true name and address of the vendor does not permit authorities on either side of the border to trace the origin of the product.

Plea in coral smuggling case

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  From the U.S. Department of Justice:

A resident of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty today to two felony violations of the federal Lacey Act for collecting, purchasing, falsely labeling, and shipping protected marine invertebrate species as part of an effort to subvert Puerto Rican law designed to protect corals and other reef species, the Department of Justice announced.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Aristides Sanchez was the owner of the Arecibo-based saltwater aquarium business, Wonders of the Reef Aquarium. A large part of the business was devoted to the sale of native Puerto Rican marine species that are popular in the saltwater aquarium trade. Sanchez sent live specimens to customers in the mainland United States and foreign countries by commercial courier services, Justice officials said.

One of the most popular items that Sanchez sent off-island was an organism from the genus Ricordea. These animals are known as “rics,” “polyps,” or “mushrooms” in the aquarium industry. Members of the genus form part of the reef structure and spend their adult lives fastened in place to the reef. These animals are colorful in natural light, but what makes them particularly interesting to aquarium owners is that they “glow” under the UV lights that are typically used in high-end saltwater aquariums.

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Mountaineers rescued on Grand Teton

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  Courtesy the National Park Service:

MOOSE, WY—Grand Teton National Park’s Jenny Lake Rangers, Teton Interagency Helitack, and the Teton Interagency Contract Helicopter came to the rescue of two mountaineers Tuesday, August 15, 2017. 

The mountaineers, Nick Marucci, 30, of Salt Lake City, Utah,mand Laura Robertson, 23, of Orem, Utah, were attempting to complete the Grand Traverse when they became mentally and physically exhausted after five challenging days in the high mountains.
Marucci and Robertson ascended Teewinot Mountain and Mount Owen on the first two days of their journey before cool temperatures, rain, and hail hampered their progress on Sunday. On Monday, the two climbers ascended a portion of the North Ridge of the Grand Teton despite limited visibility and wet, icy conditions. After ascending a few hundred feet, suffering minor injuries, and loosing manual dexterity due to the cold, they called for help at 4:15 p.m. Their call was forwarded from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch to Teton Interagency Dispatch Center.

Jenny Lake Rangers took the call and attempted to talk the mountaineers through various escape route possibilities. Rangers stationed at the Lower Saddle also attempted to reach their location but were unable to do so due to the wet conditions. The rangers then advised Marucci and Robertson to descend to a small ledge and spend the night in their tent before descending two rappels further to the Grandstand feature the following morning.
After discussing options with the climbers to make the long descent out of the mountains Tuesday morning, it became clear that they were too exhausted and an aerial rescue would be the safest and most expeditious form of rescue. Rangers conducted a reconnaissance flight before configuring the helicopter for short-haul rescue. Short-haul is a rescue technique where an individual or gear is suspended below the helicopter on a 150 to 250 foot rope.

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