WASHINGTON – Fu Yiner, a Chinese national, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado to a felony count of smuggling in connection with his sale and shipment of internationally protected sea turtle shell and sea turtle shell products from China to the United States, the Justice Department announced.
Fu and ten others were indicted in Denver in August 2007 following a multi-year undercover investigation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Branch of Special Operations. The operation, code-named Operation Central, investigated illegal sales of sea turtle parts from China and Mexico. Fu and seven other defendants were arrested on Sept. 6, 2007. Wang Hong, a Chinese national indicted separately from Fu, pleaded guilty to smuggling on Jan. 3, 2008.
As set forth in the indictment and acknowledged in today’s plea agreement, Fu knowingly sent four shipments of raw shell and guitar picks made from the shell of Hawksbill sea turtles, an endangered species, from China to undercover agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working in Colorado during 2006 and 2007, in violation of U.S. law and international treaty. The five kilograms of unworked shell and 300 guitar picks together were valued at over $3,000. Sentencing is set for Jan. 22, 2008 at 8:30 a.m MST.
“Fu Yiner’s guilty plea is the result of years of hard work and dedication to enforcing laws that protect our wildlife,” said Assistant Attorney General Ronald J. Tenpas. “The Justice Department will continue to work with investigative agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service to prosecute the illegal smuggling of protected species such as sea turtles and to insure that those who engage in such activity cannot regard the United States as a safe market for their illegal products.”
“We mean business when it comes to protecting sea turtles and other endangered species,” said Troy Eid, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado.
“The slaughter of sea turtles and the black market sale of their shell further threaten already imperiled species,” said Chief Benito Perez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. “Work on this investigation by our agents and Federal prosecutors shows that those who traffic in protected wildlife will face serious consequences for their crimes.”
There are seven known species of sea turtles. Five of the seven species, including Hawksbill sea turtles, are listed as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Sea turtles are sometimes illegally killed for their shell, meat, skin, and eggs, which have commercial value. International trade in all sea turtle parts for commercial purposes is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora, also known as the CITES treaty, a multilateral treaty to which the United States, China, and approximately 170 other countries are parties. United States law requires that wildlife entering the U.S. be clearly marked and declared to customs or wildlife officials upon entry, requires permits for trade in or handling of many species of wildlife, and prohibits commercial trade in endangered species such as Hawksbill sea turtles.
This prosecution is the result of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Branch of Special Operations, led by Special Agent George Morrison. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda McMahan of the District of Colorado, and Senior Trial Attorney Robert S. Anderson and Trial Attorney Colin L. Black of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section.