WASHINGTON—Clement Calhoun of Cherokee, N.C., pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Asheville, N.C., to federal charges for unlawfully trafficking in bear gall bladders, the Justice Department announced.
The conviction arose from a three-year undercover anti-poaching investigation, called Operation Botanical, into the unlawful collection, purchase, sale and transportation of ginseng and bear parts within and along the southern Appalachians.
Calhoun entered his guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate District Court Judge L. Dennis Howell to two misdemeanor charges under the Lacey Act. According to the documents filed with the court, Calhoun illegally sold 51 bear gall bladders off of the Cherokee Nation trust lands, beginning in January 2005 and continuing through September 2005.
The Lacey Act is the federal law that makes it illegal to transport or sell wildlife taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of tribal law. Animal parts, like bear gall bladders, are considered wildlife under both the Lacey Act and the Cherokee code. Bear gall bladders are used as an Asian medicinal.
Under the Cherokee code, it is illegal for tribal members to sell parts of big game animals, like bear gall bladders, to non-members, to anyone beyond the boundaries of Cherokee Indian trust lands or to anyone who will remove the parts from trust lands.
Calhoun admitted that on three separate occasions—Jan. 11, 2005, Jan. 24, 2005 and Sept. 13, 2005— he knowingly transported and sold bear gall bladders when he should have known they were sold in violation of the Cherokee Code. The defendant admitted he sold to non-members of the Cherokee Nation or sold to persons who would remove the bear parts from trust lands and that he should have known that these parts were sold in violation of the Cherokee code.
According to the plea agreement, Calhoun admitted that the retail value of all of the wildlife involved was at least $6,600. As part of the agreement, he has agreed to publish a statement in a newspaper apologizing for his illegal conduct.
Calhoun faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each count. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Jan 12, 2010.
The case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of North Carolina in Asheville. The case was investigated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.