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Environmental Crimes Bulletin April 2024 Week 4

In this issue:

United States v. Corey Potter, et al., No. 3:24-CR-00047 (D. Alaska), AUSA Seth Brickey

On April 22, 2024, prosecutors charged the owner and captains of two crab catcher vessels with illegally transporting crab from Alaska, in violation of the Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(2)(A), 3373(d)(1)(B)).

Corey Potter owns two crab catching vessels, and Justin Welch and Kyle Potter worked as vessel captains. In February and March 2024, the vessels harvested more than 7,000 pounds of Tanner and Golden king crab in Southeast Alaska. Corey Potter directed Welch and Kyle Potter to take the crab to Seattle, Washington, where they intended to sell it at a higher price than they would have in Alaska. Neither captain landed the harvested crab at a port in Alaska, and they never recorded the harvest on a fish ticket, as required under state law.

A large portion of the king crab that arrived in Seattle from Alaska had died and was unmarketable. Corey Potter knew that some of the crab aboard was infected with Bitter Crab Syndrome (BCS), a parasitic disease fatal to crustaceans. Officials were forced to destroy more than 4,000 additional pounds of Tanner crab due to the risk of BCS infection. If the defendants had properly landed the crab in Alaska, authorities could have inspected the harvest and removed the infected crab before leaving Alaska.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation.

United States v. Gzuniga Ltd., et al., No. 1:22-CR-20170 (S.D. Fla.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney RJ Powers, AUSA Tom Watts-FitzGerald, and ECS Paralegal Jillian Grubb

bags with caiman and python skin

On April 22, 2024, a court sentenced Luxury handbag company Gzuniga Ltd., its founder Nancy Teresa Gonzalez de Barberi, and Gonzalez’s associate Mauricio Giraldo for illegally importing merchandise from Colombia into the United States that was manufactured from protected wildlife. Gzuniga was ordered to forfeit approximately 30 handbags and complete a three-year term of probation, to include implementing a compliance plan. The company is also banned from any activities involving commercial trade in wildlife while under supervision. Gonzalez will serve 18 months’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release. Giraldo was sentenced to time served (approximately 22 months after being held in Columbia and the United States following extradition) and a year of supervised release.

A fourth defendant, John Camilo Aguilar Jaramillo, recently pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme and is scheduled for sentencing on June 27, 2024. U.S. authorities extradited Gonzalez, Giraldo and Jaramillo from Columbia to face the conspiracy and smuggling charges (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 545).

Between February 2016 and April 2019, the defendants illegally imported designer handbags made from caiman and python skin, both protected species. They solicited friends, relatives, and employees of Gonzalez’s manufacturing company in Colombia, called C.I. Diseño Y Moda, to act as couriers and transport the designer handbags in their luggage or clothing while traveling on passenger airlines. Once the designer handbags were smuggled into the United States, they were transported or shipped to the Gzuniga showroom in Manhattan, New York, where employees placed them on display for high-end retailers to view and purchase as stock for their stores. The average retail price for these “Nancy Gonzalez” brand handbags exceeded $2,000.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation.

United States v. Jason Martin, et al., No. 5:23-CR-00010 (S.D. Miss.), AUSA Herbert S. Carraway

On April 23, 2024, a court sentenced Jason Martin to pay a $5,000 fine and complete a four-year term of probation. Martin and co-defendant Brandon Favre pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. § 371).

Between October 2020 and June 2021, Favre and Martin transported live white-tailed deer from Louisiana into Mississippi. In April 2021, Martin delivered deer to Mistletoe Properties, a permitted 850-acre high-fence enclosure for white-tailed deer operated by Favre. Upon delivery, the deer entered an unpermitted breeding pen located on the property. The deer were illegally transported interstate without documentation. Among the required records are those that certify captive-bred animals are free from diseases such as chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD is the chief threat to wild deer and elk populations in North America.

Favre was sentenced in January 2024 to pay a $5,000 fine and complete a four-year term of probation. He was also ordered to implement a four-year CWD sampling and testing plan at the Mistletoe property and will pay $59,808 in restitution for the sampling costs. Favre also will submit 40 white-tailed deer for harvesting each of the four years for CWD testing.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Investigations Unit, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation.

United States v. Willie Russell, et al., No. 1:24-CR-00005 (M.D. Ga.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy

On April 24, 2024, Willie Russell pleaded guilty to conspiracy and exhibiting dogs in an animal fighting venture (7 U.S.C. § 2156(a)(1); 18 U.S.C. § 371). Russell refereed a large-scale dog fight event that authorities disrupted while in progress on April 24, 2022, in Donalsonville, Georgia. Participants traveled from across southwest Georgia, Alabama, and Florida to fight their dogs. Agents recovered 27 dogs, including 22 that were held in cars on the scene and had either fought, or were awaiting their turn to fight. Agents found one dog still in the fighting pit that later succumbed to its injuries. Prosecutors charged a total of 14 individuals for participating in this dog fight event.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Seminole County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation.

United States v. Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan, et al., No. 7:23-CR-01448 (S.D. Tex.), AUSA Devin Walker

On April 24, 2024, a court sentenced two defendants for selling protected wildlife. Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan will serve nine months’ incarceration followed by two years’ supervised release. Gutierrez-Galvan pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Big Cat Public Safety Protection Act (Big Cat Act) (16 U.S.C. § 3372(e); 16 U.S.C § 1538 (a)(1)(F)). Deyinara Gaza will complete a two-year term of probation and perform 50 hours of community service after pleading guilty to violating the ESA.

In August 2023, Gutierrez-Galvan sold a margay cub to an undercover agent for $7,500 in an outdoor parking lot. A month later, he attempted to sell a jaguar cub to the same individual. He told his wife, Deyinara Garza, to bring a case of cash from their residence to the location. However, law enforcement conducted a traffic stop before she could arrive and discovered the money. Neither defendant possessed the proper paperwork to sell or transport exotic animals. Authorities recovered both animals, as well as $79,600, from Garza.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation with assistance from the Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Houston and San Antonio Zoos.

United States v. David C. Noble, No. 6:23-CR-00181 (D. Ore.), AUSAs William McLaren and Adam Delph

On April 24, 2024, a court sentenced David C. Noble to 48 months’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release. Noble previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to engage in, create, and distribute animal crush videos (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 48).

Between January 2022, and February 2023, Noble participated in an encrypted online chat group that viewed and funded animal crush videos. As a group administrator, Noble paid for the creation of and celebrated videos depicting the torture and murder of adult and juvenile monkeys. Noble further managed the group’s membership and repeatedly changed the group’s name to evade detection by law enforcement.

Noble, a former United States Air Force Officer, was dismissed from the Air Force in 2006 and ordered to serve six months in military custody following a court martial for fraud and an unprofessional relationship. In early February 2023, following the investigation in this case, investigators executed a search warrant on Noble’s residence and found approximately 50 videos depicting animal abuse, along with several firearms and ammunition.

In January 2023, Noble relocated from Prineville, Oregon, to Henderson, Nevada, after federal agents executed a search warrant on his Prineville residence. In June 2023, agents arrested and detained him in Oregon.

Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation.

United States v. Pedro Luis Bones-Torres, No. 3:23-CR-00185 (D.P.R.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Patrick Duggan and AUSA Seth Erbe

On April 25, 2024, Pedro Luis Bones-Torres pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act for illegally constructing and depositing material into the wetlands and waters of the United States in the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (the “Jobos Estuarine Reserve”) and Las Mareas community of Salinas, Puerto Rico (33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a); 403). Sentencing is scheduled for July 24, 2024.

Starting in January 2020, Bones-Torres engaged in construction and land clearing activities on a property to the South of Camino de Galileo in the las Mareas area of Salinas, Puerto Rico (the “Property”). The majority of the Property supported mangrove trees with an open area that was occasionally partially submerged by the sea tides. This wetland area was within the Jobos Estuarine Reserve.

Between January 2020 and October 2022, Bones-Torres removed mangroves from the Property, depositing fill material onto the wetland area using excavation and earth moving equipment. After he filled the wetlands, he built a concrete pad, a concrete gazebo with an outdoor kitchen, a wooden gazebo, and a dock extending into Mar Negro. Bones-Torres did not seek or receive approval to fill the wetlands and was at no point permitted to fill wetlands on or near the Property.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation.



Updated May 8, 2024