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Two charged with stealing sea turtle eggs

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 Two Riviera Beach men charged with stealing sea turtle eggs from a St. Lucie County beach in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Carl Lawrence Cobb, 60, of Riviera Beach, is charged by indictment with two counts of transporting sea turtle eggs for the purpose of sale, in violation of the Lacey Act and two counts of violating the Endangered Species Act by possessing the eggs. Raymond Saunders, 50, also of Riviera Beach, is charged by indictment with one count of transporting sea turtle eggs for the purpose of sale and one count of violating the Endangered Species Act by possessing the eggs …

According to the court record, on May 5, 2017, a concerned citizen reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that a man was disturbing sea turtle nests on North Hutchinson Island. A law enforcement investigation revealed that Cobb had removed over 200 eggs from two sea turtle nests. On May 24, 2017, law enforcement officials observed Cobb and Saunders remove approximately 469 sea turtle eggs from nests on North Hutchinson Island. Cobb and Saunders were arrested as they were transporting the eggs to Palm Beach County. The recovered eggs were relocated by marine biologists in the hope that some of them will yield hatchlings.

Dino smuggling plea after skeleton found in closet

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A Wyoming fossil dealer has pleaded to dinosaur smuggling charges after Customs agents found a skeleton in his closet. Well, not a complete skeleton. Just the skull of a T-Bataar that had been sneaked out of Mongolia. And, technically, it wasn’t his closet. It was rented by the store’s director, but the dealer was the landlord.

The skull had been a centerpiece at Wyoming store until news broke of an earlier T-Bataar smuggling case out of New York. Then it was closet time.

Agents found a collection of other fossils, including another Bataar skull hiding in a crawlspace at the dealer’s home, authorities said.

Here is what Immigration and Customs Enforcement said about the case:

Wyoming fossil retailer pleads guilty to smuggling dinosaur and other fossils into the US

CHEYENNE, Wyo. —A Wyoming fossil retailer pleaded guilty Thursday to an Information charging conspiracy to smuggle dinosaur and other fossilized bones into the United States from China and Mongolia.

This guilty plea was announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming. This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

John Richard Rolater, 69, pleaded guilty to the charge and also agreed to surrender any and all contraband vertebrate fossils he has, which include the following fossils from China: a saber-toothed cat skull, a Feilongus fossil, an Anchiornis Huxleyi fossil and a Darwinopterus fossil.

As part of the plea agreement, Rolater also agreed to pay a $25,000 fine, and to two years of supervised probation. A formal sentencing date has not yet been set.

Rolater owns and operates two “By Nature Gallery” retail stores in Jackson, Wyo., and Beaver Creek, Colo.

This investigation began in June 2012 following a hot-line tip which was forwarded to HSI special agents in Casper, Wyo. The tipster reported that a Tyrannosaurus Bataar fossilized skull being sold by Rolater in his Jackson, Wyo., store was originally from Mongolia. However, immediately after the HSI seizure of a separate Bataar skull was publicized in New York, the Bataar skull displayed in Rolater’s Jackson, Wyo., store was removed. HSI special agents obtained a search warrant and discovered the skull June 22, 2012 hidden in a closet of the rented residence of the store’s director, which was owned by Rolater.

HSI special agents executed another search warrant at Rolater’s Eagle, Colo., residence Aug. 1, 2012. They discovered and seized the following items: a fossilized Gallimimus foot, six computers, two electronic storage devices, a box of business documents from Rolater, and a fossilized juvenile Bataar skull, which was hidden in the crawl space of Rolater’s house.

Both China and Mongolia have extensive cultural patrimony laws that specifically protect prehistoric fossils.

During this investigation, HSI seized the following smuggled fossils, which will ultimately be repatriated back to their country of origin:

Micro-Raptor (4), total value $173,000
Bataar Skull (3) $1,875,000
Dinosaur Eggs (10) $5,075
Bataar lower leg (1) $75,000
Keichosaurus (15) $3,990
Gallimimus foot (1) $18,750
Sinovenator (2) $70,000
Protoceratops (1) $100,000
Anchiormis (1) $30,000
Gallimimus skeleton (1) $100,000

Indictments in Mississippi River caviar plot

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Federal wildlife cops are pursuing charges against eight people for allegedly harvesting caviar from Warsaw, Mo., which is apparently a hotbed for domestic fish eggs. With the decline of sturgeon, paddlefish from the Mississippi River are becoming the go-to fish for fancy cracker spreads. Here’s the Department of Justice account of the investigation and recent indictments:

Eight Indicted for trafficking of Paddlefish “Caviar”
March 14, 2013

Eight people face federal charges stemming from a joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Missouri Department of Conservation investigation of interstate and international trafficking in paddlefish “caviar,” according to the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Arkadiy Lvovskiy, Dmitri Elitchev, Artour Magdessian, Felix Baravik, Petr Babenko, Bogdan Nahapetyan, Fedor Pakhnyuk and Andrew Praskovsky have been charged in four, separate indictments in the Western District of Missouri for acts that occurred in 2011 and 2012.

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. 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. It 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.

Among other things, the Lacey Act 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.

Arkadiy Lvovskiy, 51, of Aurora, Colo., Dmitri Elitchev, 46, of Centennial, Colo., Artour Magdessian, 46, of Lone Tree, Colo., and Felix Baravik, 48, of Aurora, Colo., were charged with conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, and with trafficking in paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in violation of the Lacey Act. The indictment alleges that in the spring of 2011 and 2012, the defendants traveled to Warsaw, Mo., where they engaged in multiple purchases of paddlefish and processed the eggs from those paddlefish into caviar. After processing the paddlefish eggs into caviar, they allegedly transported the caviar from Missouri to Colorado. The indictment further alleges that, during the trips, the defendants engaged in counter-surveillance efforts in order to avoid being detected.

Petr Babenko, 42, of Vineland, N.J., and Bogdan Nahapetyan, 33, of Lake Ozark, Mo., were charged with conspiring with each other and other individuals to violate the Lacey Act, and with trafficking in paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in violation of the Lacey Act. The indictment alleges that between March and April 2012, the defendants traveled to Warsaw where they bought paddlefish and processed the eggs from those paddlefish into caviar. After processing the paddlefish eggs into caviar, they transported the caviar from Missouri to New Jersey.

Fedor Pakhnyuk, 39, of Hinsdale, Ill., is charged with two counts of trafficking in paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in violation of the Lacey Act. According to the indictment, in the spring of 2011 and 2012 Pakhnyuk traveled from Illinois to Missouri for the purpose of obtaining paddlefish eggs. The indictment alleges that Pakhnyuk procured paddlefish eggs by purchasing them, and by performing processing services for other persons in exchange for a share of the processed eggs. After processing the paddlefish eggs into caviar, Pakhnyuk transported the caviar from to Illinois. The indictment alleges that Pakhnyuk also attempted to form an enterprise with other individuals that would market processed paddlefish caviar at markets in Chicago, Illinois.

Andrew Praskovsky, 40, of Erie, Colo., is charged with two counts of trafficking in paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in violation of the Lacey Act. According to the indictment, in March and April 2012, Praskovsky twice traveled to Warsaw to buy paddlefish. After processing the paddlefish eggs into caviar, Pakhnyuk transported the caviar from to Kansas. The indictment alleges that, in April 2012, Praskovsky attempted to export some of the paddlefish eggs in checked luggage on an international flight departing from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. The paddlefish eggs were seized at Dulles, as paddlefish eggs may only be exported if they are accompanied by a valid permit issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species.

The case 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.