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Florida couple indicted for cobra mounts, babirusa skull

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 We were too busy in July and missed this one from the U.S. Department of Justice: 

An indictment was unsealed in July (2019) from a federal grand jury sitting in Tampa, Florida, charges Novita Indah, 48, and Larry Malugin, 51, of Port Richey, Florida, with conspiracy and trafficking in protected wildlife. The indictment charges the couple with smuggling wildlife from Indonesia to the United States and reselling the wildlife from their Florida home.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seized approximately 369 wildlife articles from their home during the execution of search warrant on Jan. 12, 2017. The agents recovered assorted Javan spitting cobra, reticulated python, and monitor lizard mounts, belts, and wallets, as well as a babirusa skull. A babirusa is a rare Indonesian pig prized for its distinctive curving tusks.

The indictment alleges that beginning in 2011, Indah and Malugin sold wildlife on eBay from their Indonesian home to buyers across the world. They would smuggle the items to purchasers in the United States in packages falsely labeled to conceal their contents. Indah and Malugin continued to sell wildlife after they moved to Puerto Rico and ultimately Florida in 2013. All of the wildlife was protected by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

In addition to the seized wildlife, Indah and Malugin also trafficked in taxidermy mounts and bones of leopard cats, owls, and Southeast Asian primates, including slow loris, macaques, lutungs, and langurs.

From 2011 to 2017, Indah and Malugin made approximately 4,596 online sales of CITES-protected wildlife worth about $211,212. USFWS and Customs inspectors repeatedly seized packages shipped by the couple, but they continued to sell wildlife using various eBay and PayPal accounts. 

If convicted, Indah and Malugin face a maximum sentence of 20 years’ incarceration on the smuggling charges and five years for the Lacey Act violations. The indictment also seeks to forfeit the wildlife seized from their residence.

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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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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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Forfeiture filed for Hobby Lobby artifacts

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tablets edit

Cuneiform tablet. Photo courtesty ICE

Courtesy Immigration and Customs Enforcement

NEW YORK – Pursuant to an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations New York of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer and two of Hobby Lobby’s corporate affiliates, the United States filed civil complaint to forfeit thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae.

As alleged in the complaint, these ancient clay artifacts originated in the area of modern-day Iraq and were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates and Israel, contrary to federal law. Packages containing the artifacts were shipped to Hobby Lobby and the shipping labels on these packages falsely described cuneiform tablets as tile “samples.”

The government also filed a stipulation of settlement with Hobby Lobby, in which Hobby Lobby consented to the forfeiture of the artifacts in the complaint, approximately 144 cylinder seals and an additional sum of $3 million, resolving the civil action. Hobby Lobby further agreed to adopt internal policies and procedures governing its importation and purchase of cultural property, provide appropriate training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next eighteen months.

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Two eel indictments in Broken Glass investigation

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American eel

Two Maine men have been charged in an ongoing eel trafficking investigation. (March 30, 2017)

William Sheldon, 71, of Woolwich, Maine, and Timothy Lewis, 46, of Phippsburg, Maine, were each indicted in Portland, Maine, with crimes related to illegally trafficking juvenile American eels, also known as “elvers” or “glass eels.” A seven-count indictment was returned on March 1, charging Sheldon with conspiracy to smuggle elvers and violate the Lacey Act. A two-count indictment was returned on March 29, charging Lewis with conspiracy to traffic elvers and violate the Lacey Act. Sheldon was arraigned today in U.S. District Court in Portland.

These indictments were 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 these two indictments, as well as guilty pleas for eleven individuals in Maine, Virginia and South Carolina. These eleven defendants combined have admitted to illegally trafficking more than $2.75 million worth of elvers.

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 the population of these eels. As a result, harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void resulting from the decreased number of Japanese and European eels.

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 U.S., 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 U.S. can sell elvers to east Asia for more than $2000 per pound.

Because of the threat of overfishing, elver harvesting is prohibited in the U.S. 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.

Conviction in Pakistani smuggling case

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A New Mexico man was convicted Thursday by a federal jury for multiple crimes, including his role in a conspiracy to smuggle ancient artifacts into the United States from Pakistan. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the National Geographic Association.

According to evidence presented at trial and court records, Ijaz Khan, 42, of Sante Fe, New Mexico, was part of a conspiracy that smuggled ancient artifacts into the U.S., including pottery and bronze weapons stolen from burial sites and coins from a cave temple in Pakistan called the Kashmir Smast. Khan and Vera Lautt, 57, also of Santa Fe, used their business, Indus Valley, to sell the artifacts. One shipment of artifacts was stopped at Dulles International Airport in October 2013. Khan and others then attempted to obtain the shipment by submitting various false and fraudulent documents to CBP.

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U.S. seeks looted Syrian artifacts

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Gold ring with carved gemstone. This ring is believed to be from the Hellenistic/Roman period, dating approximately from 330 BC to 400 AD, and to have come from Deir Ezzor, Syria, which is near where the raid against Abu Sayyaf occurred. Finger not included. Photo courtesy of Abu Sayyaf’s raided archives.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was on the lookout for four artifacts it believes were looted from for Syria and sold to benefit war chests belonging to ISIS (also known as ISIL and De’esh).

The forfeiture complaint spells out how authorities traced the items thanks to the records of Abu Sayyaf, the late ISIS antiquities minister who was in charge of taxing and permitting looters who were taking advantage of chaos in the war-torn country to dig up ancient artifacts for profit.

The complaint goes on to describe how one of Sayyaf’s underlings even kidnapped the 16-year-old son of one of the antiquities merchants at gunpoint. This came following a dispute over tariffs on relics and gold that had been dug out of the ground with pick axes. In the end, Sayyaf was ordered to apologize to the boy’s family, and the underling was directed to go to shari’al law and military course.

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Return of the mummy’s hand

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Photo courtesy Josh Denmark/Immigration and Customs Enforcement

An Egyptian mummy hand is on its way home after customs officials formally handed over the appendage — and four other artifacts — to Egyptian authorities Thursday.

The 8th century BCE hand had been smuggled into the United States, and customs agents found it labeled as a prop for a sci-fi movies during an investigation. It was the latest repatriation in the Operation Mummy’s Hand and Operation Mummy’s Curse probes, which include the case of the nesting sarcophagus found in a Brooklyn garage in 2009. 

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

The ongoing investigation has identified a criminal network of smugglers, importers, money launderers, restorers and purchasers who used illegal methods to avoid detection as these items entered the United States. Items and funds were traced back to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Iraq, France, and other nations.

To date, Operation Mummy’s Curse has secured four indictments, two convictions, 19 search warrants, and 16 seizures totalling approximately $3 million. The agency is also seeking an international fugitive involved in the case.

Probation in skull smuggling case

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  A Texas man has been sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to smuggling two endangered orangutan skulls from Indonesia into the country.

Graham Scott Criglow, 39, of Anderson, was sentenced Sept. 7, 2016, in a U.S. District Court for Southern Texas in connection with an intercepted package that contained pongo orangutan skulls and a search of his home that yielded human skulls, according to the Department of Justice.

Orangutans are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Criglow is a reptile breeder and owner of Strange Cargo Exotics, an Internet-based wildlife business that dabbles in the trade of poisonous snakes.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice: 

In April 2016, FWS inspectors at the San Francisco International Airport examined a parcel from Indonesia addressed to Criglow. The parcel lacked an Indonesian customs declaration and was screened using an x-ray machine. The inspectors determined the parcel contained two primate skulls. A morphology examination determined the wildlife was two orangutan skulls. 

In May 2016, agents conducted a controlled delivery of the skulls at Criglow’s residence and executed a search warrant, at which time agents located several other animal skulls and bones. Authorities also located human remains including approximately 30 human skulls which were found to be legally purchased by Criglow for his personal collection.

Charges in pool cue smuggling case

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 A California pool cue maker has been charged in a smuggling case involving sticks with ivory inlays. Below is the release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

North Hollywood Pool Cue Maker Charged with Helping Smuggle Elephant Ivory

July 28, 2016

LOS ANGELES – A North Hollywood man surrendered to U.S. Marshals this morning after an arrest warrant was issued on federal charges of aiding and abetting the illegal smuggling of protected elephant ivory.

Cesar Ernesto Gutierrez, 75, was charged in a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in United States District Court with aiding and abetting the attempted illegal exportation from the United States to Taiwan of protected African elephant ivory.

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Marriage and smuggling charges

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  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a Pakistani native began smuggling artifacts into the United States after using a sham marriage to gain citizenship. 
The artifacts included ancient coins, bronze and iron axes, spears, arrowheads, swords and daggers and were sold at shows and online through his company, Indus Valley. When a shipment of some 1,300 artifacts got flagged by customs agents at Washington Dulles International Airport in 2013, he and others claimed the objects were inherited family property valued at $500.

Here are the details:

Indictments for citizenship fraud, artifact smuggling 

5.27.16

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Several individuals were indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday for citizenship fraud and smuggling cultural artifacts into the United States. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Department of State’s (DOS) Office of Inspector General.

Three individuals – Ijaz Khan, 42, and Vera Lautt, 56, both of Sante Fe, New Mexico, and Ibrar Khan, of Pakistan – face charges for conspiracy to defraud the United States and naturalizing and procuring U.S. citizenship by fraud. Ijaz Khan, along with Fahad Khan, of Pakistan, face additional charges, including smuggling artifacts from Pakistan into the United States and obstructing justice.

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