Courts & Crime

Alaska couple indicted in black market sales of polar bear hides, walrus tusks

A Glennallen couple illegally trafficked walrus tusks and polar bear hides purchased during visits to an Alaska Native village over the past year, according to charges filed this week in federal court. The duo is accused of trading cigarettes, guns, snowmachines and other goods for federally protected animal parts, some of which they in turn sold to buyers out of state.

Loretta Audrey Sternbach, 52, and her companion, Jesse Joseph Leboeuf, 46, face seven felony counts for the alleged sales of the hides and tusks and two weapons charges related to an accusation they owned an illegal machine gun. Leboeuf also faces a single count of being a felon in possession of firearms.

Authorities arrested the pair Tuesday in Glennallen. They pleaded not guilty to the charges Thursday at the federal courthouse in Anchorage.

Prosecutors said an Anchorage man, 50-year-old Richard Blake Weshenfelder, advertised the tusks online and communicated with potential buyers. Weshenfelder faces one count of conspiring to violate a federal endangered species law.

The indictment reveals a nine-month investigation into the black market for illegal animal parts in Alaska.

Sternbach and Leboeuf are accused of buying two polar bear hides and more than 500 pounds of walrus tusks during multiple trips to the Saint Lawrence Island village of Savoonga in 2010 and 2011.

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