Federal prosecutors announced two guilty pleas on Tuesday, Jan. 7th in a ring that trafficked from Tennessee to Canada and Alaska in tusks from more than 100 narwhal whales, marine mammals listed internationally as endangered species.
They sold some of them on the “Ebay” web site, prosecutors said.
Jay Conrad of Lakeland, Tenn., pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Maine to separate counts of conspiring to launder money, to illegally import and to illegally traffic in narwhal tusks, charges carrying a penalty of up to 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine, the Justice Department announced.
Separately, prosecutors in Maine unsealed a plea agreement submitted to a federal judge in Anchorage in which Eddie Dunn of Eads, Tenn., admitted to conspiring to illegally traffic and to trafficking in narwhal tusks. He faces up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
Their two alleged Canadian suppliers also are facing prosecution.
Beginning around 2003, Dunn and Conrad paid a Canadian supplier for the tusks, the Justice Department said. It said that Dunn reaped about $1.1 million for the sales, and Conrad sold between $400,000 and $1 million in tusks over Ebay and in direct sales to known buyers and collectors of ivory.
Their buyers, prosecutors said, were located throughout the country, including in Washington state and Alaska.
A narwhal has an extremely long tusk that projects from its upper left jaw. The whale is protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and is listed in an appendix of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Federal law prohibits importation into the United States of parts of marine mammals without permits and without declaring the merchandise to U.S. Customs inspectors and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“If left unchecked, this illegal trade has the potential to irreparably harm the species,” said Robert Dreher, acting chief of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute wildlife traffickers in order to protect these species for future generations to enjoy.”
Karen Loeffler, U.S. attorney for the District of Alaska, said the investigation had “dismantled” the trafficking network, praising cooperation between law enforcement officers in the United States and Canada, including agents from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
One Canadian co-defendant, Andrew Zarauskas, is set to begin on Feb. 4th in Bangor, Maine. Federal authorities are awaiting the extradition of the second, Gregory Logan, to the District of Maine.