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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.

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Conviction in narwhal tusk case

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Here’s the latest in the narwhal tusk smuggling investigation:

Narwhal Tusk Trafficker Convicted of Conspiracy and Money Laundering
Feb. 14, 2014

BANGOR — A New Jersey man was found guilty today by a federal jury in Bangor, Maine, of illegally trafficking and smuggling narwhal tusks, and associated money laundering crimes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

  Andrew L. Zarauskas, 60, of Union,  was convicted of conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering violations for buying narwhal tusks knowing the tusks had been illegally imported into the United States from Canada, as well as selling or attempting to sell the tusks after their illegal importation.

Authorities allege from 2002 to 2008, Zarauskas purchased approximately 33 narwhal tusks that he knew were illegally imported into the United States in violation of federal law. A narwhal is a medium-sized whale with an extremely long tusk that projects from its upper left jaw, often referred to as the unicorn of the sea. As marine mammals narwhals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

It is illegal to import parts of marine mammals into the United States without the requisite permits and without declaring the items to U.S. Customs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Narwhal tusks are commonly collected for display purposes and can fetch large sums of money.

According to evidence presented at the trial, Zarauskas conspired with others, including persons located in Canada, to illegally import the protected tusks for re-sale in the United States and to launder the funds used to purchase the narwhal tusks by transferring checks and money orders from New Jersey to Canada, intending that the money be used for further illegal imports of narwhal tusks.

On Jan. 7, 2014, Jay G. Conrad, of Lakeland, Tenn., who had been charged in the same indictment, pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally import and traffic narwhal tusks, conspiring to launder money, and illegally trafficking narwhal tusks. On that same date, a plea agreement was also unsealed in which Eddie T. Dunn, of Eads, Tenn., pleaded guilty in the District of Alaska to conspiring to illegally traffic, and trafficking, narwhal tusks.

Throughout the conspiracy, Zarauskus and others made payments to the Canadian supplier for the narwhal tusks, by sending the payments to a mailing address in Bangor, Maine, or directly to the supplier in Canada, authorities said. The payments allowed the Canadian supplier to purchase and re-supply Zarauskus and Conrad with more narwhal tusks that they could then re-sell. Conrad sold between $400,000 and $1 million worth of narwhal tusks and Dunn sold approximately $1.1 million worth of narwhal tusks as members of the conspiracy.

Ivory crushed

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Seized ivory set for destruction. Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Today, the government will smash tons of ivory that agents seized in trafficking operations over decades.

Dubbed “Ivory Crush,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operation is designed to send a message that the United States won’t tolerate poaching and the illegal tusk trade.

Although the Philippines, Kenya and Gabon have destroyed contraband ivory in those countries, this will be the first time the United States has destroyed large quantities.

“As a matter of principle and policy, the Service does not sell confiscated wildlife derived from endangered and threatened species,” Service officials said in a prepared release.

About 6 tons of tusks and carved ivory from African and Asian elephants that was seized since the 1980s is set for destruction. The service will keep some ivory for educational and training purposes.

The process involves crushing he confiscated ivory into pieces that are too small to be of commercial value.

Below is a video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about Operation Crush.

Narwhal tusk indictment

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You know it’s big news when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration makes a bust. Yes, nation’s weather trackers are also the country’s sea critter cops under its Marine Fisheries Service duties (a few years ago, I used NOAA officials on a piece I did about whale vomit trafficking, but I digress). Last week, a federal grand jury handed up an indictment in a NOAA investigation into illegally imported narwhal tusks. I have no idea what’s behind the allure of the tusks. Are they a folk medicine like elephant tusks and rhino horns? Whatever it is, I bet the unicorns are behind it. Below is the Department of Justice release on the case. It mentions the indictment was partially unsealed, which leads us to believe others will be named.

New Jersey Man Arrested for Illegally Importing Narwhal Tusks and Money Laundering
Dec . 14, 2012

WASHINGTON— A New Jersey man was arrested today for crimes related to the illegal importation and illegal trafficking of narwhal tusks (whale tusk) and associated money laundering crimes, according to Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

On Nov. 14, 2012, a federal grand jury sitting in Bangor, Maine, returned an indictment that was partially unsealed today upon the arrest of Andrew L. Zarauskas of Union, N.J. The indictment also names Jay G. Conrad of Lakeland, Tenn., who was summoned to appear in the District of Maine on Jan. 3, 2013. The indictment charges Conrad and Zarauskas with conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering violations for buying narwhal tusks knowing the tusks had been illegally imported into the United States, as well as selling or attempting to sell the tusks after their illegal importation. Zarauskas was arrested Dec. 14 at his home in Union.

The indictment alleges that from 2007 to 2010, Conrad and Zarauskas purchased narwhal tusks that were illegally imported into the United States in violation of federal law. A narwhal is a medium-sized whale with an extremely long tusk that projects from its upper left jaw. A narwhal is a marine mammal that is protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is illegal to import parts of marine mammals into the United States without the requisite permits, and without declaring the merchandise at the time of importation to U.S. Customs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Narwhal tusks are commonly collected for display purposes and can fetch large sums of money.

The indictment alleges that Conrad and Zarauskas conspired with people in Canada to import the protected tusks for re-sale in the United States. Conrad and Zarauskas also conspired with people in Canada to launder the funds used to purchase the narwhal tusks by transporting, transmitting, or transferring checks and money orders from Tennessee and New Jersey to Canada, intending that the money be used for further illegal imports of narwhal tusks.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. If convicted of these charges, Conrad and Zarauskas each face up to twenty years in prison on each of the most serious charges, as well as fines up to $250,000.

The case was investigated by agents from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Office of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Office of Law Enforcement.