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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Department of Justice announced that James Michael Kovach of Goldvein, Virginia, today entered a plea of guilty in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, Florida, to two misdemeanor counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. Kovach is the sole proprietor of Southwind Orchids.

Kovach was charged by a federal grand jury in January 2004 with one felony count of smuggling and one misdemeanor count of violating the Endangered Species Act. The guilty plea was entered pursuant to a plea agreement, allowing Kovach to plea to a lesser included misdemeanor offense under the first count.

“The Department of Justice takes seriously the breaches of conservation laws committed by those privileged to deal with endangered and threatened species,” said Assistant Attorney General Tom Sansonetti. “We will hold individuals accountable for their criminal acts and seek to bring them to justice.”

The charges against Kovach arose from his role in the illegal importation of a protected species of orchid into the United States from Peru in June 2002. On June 4, 2002, Kovach entered the United States at Miami, Florida, from Peru, carrying with him over 300 orchids, including at least one specimen of a previously unidentified species of the genus Phragmipedium, commonly known as Tropical Lady’s Slipper orchids. All species of the genus Phragmipedium are protected under an international treaty called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which the United States, Peru, and some 162 other nations are signatories. The Endangered Species Act prohibits trade in specimens contrary to CITES as well as possession of specimens that have been traded contrary to CITES.

Kovach transported the specimens into the United States without any CITES permits even though he was aware that under CITES the transportation of the specimens from Peru into the United States required a valid export from Peru. Once inside the U.S., Kovach took the specimens from Miami, Florida, to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida. Selby received two specimens from Kovach, a live plant in flower and a second flower, and agreed to publish a formal identification of the new species, naming it Phragmipedium kovachii, after Kovach. Both Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and its Director of Systematics, Wesley E. Higgins, have been found guilty of violating the Endangered Species Act in relation to the receipt of, and subsequent actions involving these specimens.

The investigation of this case was led by Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with assistance from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Customs Service, officials of CITES management authority in Peru-known as INRENA, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida and the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice.