WASHINGTON –Mark Booth, of Shippensburg, Pa., was sentenced today to pay $10,000 fine, $5,000 community service payment and to serve three years probation, by U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Babcock in the District of Colorado for making false statements in connection with his attempt to import the trophy parts of a leopard illegally killed in South Africa in 2003, the Justice Department announced. During the probationary period, Mr. Booth is prohibited from hunting anywhere in the world and must take steps to notify the trophy-hunting community of the need to comply with laws and regulations related to that activity.
Booth’s felony conviction under the Lacey Act was the result of a guilty plea following an investigation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) into the unlawful importation of several leopard skins and skulls from Zimbabwe to Denver in 2003. South African professional guides Jan Swart and Willem Basson were sentenced to prison terms in 2007 in connection with their roles in importing five hides and three skulls of sport-hunted leopards into the United States from Zimbabwe in November 2005.
Leopards, Panthera pardus, are classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and international trade in live or dead specimens and parts is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Leopards may lawfully be sport-hunted in South Africa, subject to a strict quota and permit system. The trophy parts of leopards that lawfully have been sport-hunted in South Africa may be imported into the United States, provided a valid CITES export permit from South Africa and a valid CITES import permit from the United States are obtained first.
As part of the plea agreement, Booth admitted that in July 2003 he traveled from the United States to South Africa to hunt plains game. The outfitter for the hunt was Jan Swart of Trophy Hunting Safaris in Thabazimbi, South Africa. Prior to the trip, Booth informed Swart that he desired to hunt a leopard in South Africa and that he did not possess a permit for such a hunt but hoped that one would become available. Swart told Booth to bring the $3,500 fee for the leopard hunt with him in case a leopard hunt could be arranged.
During the trip, Swart told Booth that he could hunt a leopard in South Africa, but if asked he would have to say that he had killed the animal in Zimbabwe, a bordering country. On or about July 31, 2003, Booth, guided by a professional hunter employed by Swart, killed a leopard in South Africa, for which he paid Swart $4,500. Booth returned to the United States from South Africa on or about Aug. 1, 2003, leaving the leopard hide and skull with Swart in South Africa. Booth and Swart agreed that Swart would ship the leopard parts to Booth later, after fraudulent permits were obtained.
On Dec. 10, 2003, at Swart’s direction in e-mail and telephone conversations, Booth submitted a handwritten application to the FWS seeking a CITES permit authorizing his import of the trophy parts of the leopard. On this application, Booth falsely claimed he had killed the leopard in Zimbabwe. Based on this false application, on Dec. 16, 2003, the FWS issued Booth a permit authorizing the import of the leopard.
In May 2004, Swart directed Booth to obtain a second CITES permit for a leopard hide killed by another U.S. hunter whose initials are WB. Booth spoke by telephone with WB, who said he thought he had killed his leopard in South Africa, not Zimbabwe. Booth applied for a CITES import permit for WB’s leopard, claiming he had killed it himself in Zimbabwe. On June 9, 2004, the FWS issued a second CITES leopard import permit to Booth.
In November 2004, Swart arranged for five leopard hides and three skulls, including two leopard hides marked with Booth’s name, to be shipped from Zimbabwe to the United States along with Zimbabwe export permits. On Nov. 4, 2005, the shipment, addressed to Booth, arrived in Denver from Zimbabwe and was seized by the FWS based on the lack of valid and appropriate CITES export and import permits.
The case was investigated by Special Agent James Hampton and Wildlife Inspector Tracey Ellis of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and prosecuted by Robert S. Anderson, Senior Trial Attorney with the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Holloway for the District of Colorado.