WASHINGTON – Jorge Caraveo of El Paso, Texas, and Carlos Leal Barragan of Jalisco, Mexico, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Denver to felony charges in connection with the smuggling of sea turtle and other exotic skins and skin products into the United States from Mexico, the Justice Department announced today. Caraveo pleaded guilty to three counts of smuggling, and Leal Barragan pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling and one count of money laundering.
Caraveo, Leal Barragan and nine others were indicted in Denver in August 2007 following a multi-year undercover investigation named Operation Central, conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Branch of Special Operations. They and five other defendants were arrested on Sept. 6, 2007. Chinese nationals Fu Yiner and Wang Hong, and Oscar Cueva of McAllen, Texas, pleaded guilty to smuggling charges earlier this month.
Caraveo and Leal Barragan were indicted with co-defendants Maria de los Angeles Cruz Pacheco, Octavio Munoz and Esteban Lopez Estrada, all Mexican nationals, in connection with the smuggling of sea turtle and other exotic leathers and exotic leather products into the United States from Mexico. As set forth in the indictment and acknowledged in his plea agreement, Caraveo received sea turtle and other exotic skins, boots, and other products from his co-defendants in Juarez, Mexico, and brought the skins, boots and other products into the United States in violation of U.S. and international law. As reflected in his plea agreement, Leal Barragan sold sea turtle skins in Mexico and sold them to customers in Mexico and undercover agents in the United States. He then sent the skins to Caraveo for smuggling across the border into the United States. As payment for the skins, Leal Barraganreceived international wire transfers from Colorado to his Mexican bank account.
According to today’s plea agreement, Caraveo smuggled into the United States wildlife parts and products with a total fair market value of between $200,000 and $400,000. No value was specified with regard to Leal Barragan. A sentencing hearing for Caraveo and for Leal Barrigan is set for April 25, 2008 at 9:00 a.m. M.S.T.
There are seven known species of sea turtles. Five of the seven species are listed as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Sea turtles are sometimes illegally killed for their shell, meat, skins 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, Mexico and approximately 170 other countries are parties. CITES also restricts international trade in many other species of wildlife, including some involved in this case, which are deemed at risk of extinction and are, or may be, affected by international trade. United States law independently 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.
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.