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DOJ (202) 514-2008
DOI (202) 208-5634
TDD (202) 514-1888


International Effort Results In Three Men Facing Charges Of Black Market Trafficking

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Culminating a long-term undercover investigation into one facet of the multi-billion-dollar business of illegal trafficking in live wildlife and wildlife products, officials from the Departments of Justice and Interior announced today the arrest of three individuals who allegedly participated in a live, endangered reptile smuggling ring between Asia and North America. Several species of reptiles smuggled in this case are extremely endangered in the wild, including the plowshare tortoise and the Komodo dragon.

"Trafficking in endangered species threatens our environment," said U.S. Department of Justice Attorney General Janet Reno. "We will bring the full force of the law against those who violate the laws that protect our environment. Let the message be clear: We will take whatever steps are necessary here and abroad to stop the black market in endangered species."

Arrested Monday (9/14) in the United States were James Michael Burroughs, age 47, of San Francisco, California, and Beau Lee Lewis, age 20, of Buckeye, Arizona. Arrested in Mexico City was Keng Liang "Anson" Wong, age 40, of Penang, Malaysia. Wong is alleged to be a notorious reptile smuggler. The three men are named as defendants in a 55-count federal indictment which alleges violations of conspiracy, smuggling, money laundering, false statement and wildlife laws. A fourth defendant, Yuk Wah "Oscar" Shiu, age 39, of Hong Kong, China, remains at large.

The indictment alleges that between January 1996 and August 15, 1998, the defendants illegally smuggled more than 300 animals worth nearly half a million dollars into the United States using human couriers, Federal Express shipments with false invoices and shipping documents, and the concealment of illegal animals within larger shipments of legal animals. The internationally protected reptiles were smuggled from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and the Philippines to the United States.

The wildlife smuggling ring was infiltrated by agents of the Special Operations Branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which established an undercover wildlife business in the San Francisco area called PacRim Enterprises. The arrests of Burroughs and Lewis in the United States were timed to coincide with a visit by Wong to Mexico City. Wong was scheduled to meet a Fish and Wildlife Service agent there who he believed was part of the undercover business.

"Today's arrest of Anson Wong entailed an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination between the United States and Mexico and among federal officials in both countries," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources. "I'm proud of the results of that hard work. Together, we will stop those who want to get rich quick by trafficking in endangered species." Ms. Schiffer also expressed gratitude for the cooperation of Federal Express.

Of the approximately 300 animals allegedly smuggled into the United States, about 39 of them are threatened with extinction, including the plowshare (or angulated) tortoise (Geochelone yniphora) and the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis). They are both listed as "endangered" or its equivalent under U.S. law and the international wildlife treaty called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. The plowshare tortoise is of particular concern because about 70 animals recently were stolen from a breeding project in their native country of Madagascar, and have been the subject of an intensive search by international wildlife preservation groups. The Komodo dragon occurs only in a relatively small area of Indonesia.

According to INTERPOL, the value of illegally traded wildlife is approximately $6 billion annually. This trade contributes directly to the extinction of these protected species. The CITES treaty, of which the United States, Mexico and 141 other countries are signatories, is the principal international tool for regulating cross-border trade in species threatened with extinction. Rare species are prized by underground reptile dealers and collectors alike, and the scarcity of a particular species often is reflected by the price it commands.

"Reptile smuggling is a high-profit criminal enterprise and the United States is its largest market," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "Sacrificing the world's legally protected rare species to meet the demand for reptiles prized as exotic live collectibles will not be tolerated by this country or by our global conservation partners."

The indictment alleges that Wong is the operator of a wildlife import/export business in Penang, Malaysia, known as "Sungai Rusa Wildlife." Wong is charged in the indictment with one count of conspiracy, 13 counts of smuggling, 10 counts of money laundering, 13 counts of making a false statement, and 14 violations of a wildlife law called the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981, commonly called the "Lacey Act."

The indictment alleges that Lewis is the operator of a wildlife import/export business in Buckeye, Arizona, known as "Beau Lewis Rare Reptiles." Lewis is charged in the indictment with one count of conspiracy, one money laundering count, six counts of making a false statement and eight Lacey Act violations.

The indictment alleges that Shiu is the operator of a wildlife import/export business in Hong Kong, China, called "Scales and Tails Wildlife." Shiu is charged in the indictment with one count of conspiracy, one count of smuggling, one count of money laundering, one count of making a false statement and one Lacey Act violation.

Burroughs is charged in the indictment with one count of conspiracy, two counts of smuggling, two counts of making a false statement and two Lacey Act violations. Each of the individuals charged also faces criminal forfeiture of the value of the smuggled wildlife.

Wong also is wanted on federal wildlife charges filed against him in 1992 in Tampa, Florida, where a warrant for his arrest has been outstanding for more than five years. In the Florida case, Wong is charged with a conspiracy and a Lacey Act offense. Between 1989 and 1992, Wong allegedly conspired to smuggle endangered Fiji banded iguanas, Bengal monitor lizards, and Indian soft-shelled turtles into the United States from Malaysia for sale to a reptile dealer in Bushnell, Florida. Wong allegedly used some of the same smuggling techniques in the Florida matter as he did in the instant case.

The maximum penalties for the money laundering offenses are 20 years imprisonment and/or a $500,000 fine; the remaining charges carry a maximum of five years imprisonment and/or $250,000 fine.

An indictment is a formal allegation that one or more persons has violated federal criminal law. Every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.

The arrests resulted from cooperative efforts by the Justice Department, the Mexican Attorney General's Office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Customs Service, INTERPOL and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada.

"We could not have completed this final phase of Operation Chameleon without tremendous help from the Mexican government. Assistance from the U.S. Customs Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was also crucial," added Ms. Clark. "International cooperation and the support of the U.S Department of Justice have been vital throughout the investigation."

The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California and the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. No trial date has been scheduled.