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Environmental Crimes Bulletin March 2024 Week 3

In this issue:

United States v. Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, No. 4:24-CR-00006 (D. Mont.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Patrick Duggan, ECS Trial Attorney Sarah Brown, and AUSA Jeff Starnes

On March 12, 2024, Arthur “Jack” Schubart pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and one count of Lacey Act Trafficking (18 U.S.C. § 371; 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(d)(2), 3373(d)(1)(B)).

In 2013, Schubarth illegally smuggled Marco Polo argali sheep parts from Kyrgyzstan into the United States. Marco Polo argali are native to high elevations in the Pamir region of Central Asia. This species of sheep, deemed the largest in the world, is protected under CITES and the ESA.

Schubarth provided the genetic material to a third-party cloning facility, and, in 2016, received successfully cloned pure Marco Polo argali embryos. Schubarth raised a pure male argali clone that he named “Montana Mountain King.” In 2018, Schubarth began breeding Montana Mountain King with other species and selling the offspring, as well as argali semen, throughout the U.S. To evade detection, Schubarth falsely labeled the offspring on Certificates of Veterinary Inspection and other official forms. At the same time, Schubarth solicited Montana hunting guides to provide him with the testicles of recently killed trophy sized native Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, in violation of Montana law, so that he could use their genetics in his breeding operation and sell the semen in interstate commerce. The conspiracy count relates to Schubarth’s scheme to create a larger, more valuable species of sheep that could be sold to captive hunting facilities (also known as high fence operations, shooting preserves, or game ranches).

A court previously sentenced two of Schubarth’s co-conspirators (Michael Ball and Riley Niewenhuis) on Lacey Act charges.

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

United States v. James W. Eskridge, No. 2:23-CR-00141 (E.D. Va.), AUSA Joseph Kosky

On March 13, 2024, James W. Eskridge pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act for overharvesting Chesapeake Blue Crabs in Virginia waters and selling them in Maryland (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(2)(A), 3372(d)(1)(B)). Sentencing is scheduled for July 17, 2024.

Eskridge operated the fishing vessel Rebecca Jean II with two mates out of Tangier Island, Virginia. Chesapeake Blue Crabs are the most valuable fishery in the Chesapeake Bay and those who harvest them are subject to strict permit limits. Between March and April 2023, Eskridge exceeded the maximum harvest and sale of blue crabs to a seafood buyer on 16 occasions. At the time of Eskridge’s violations, At the time of Eskridge’s violations, Virginia permitted licensed commercial crabbers to harvest up to 27 bushels of blue crab per day, regardless of the number of licenses crabbers present on a single vessel.

On April 11, 2023, law enforcement observed Eskridge and his mates offload 60 bushels – more than double the Virginia limit in Crisfield, Maryland. On April 13, 2023, they returned and offloaded an additional 58 bushels.

When confronted by investigators, Eskridge originally claimed to have purchased the additional crabs from a “buy boat” to sell on shore. After being challenged, Eskridge admitted that all the crabs were his and that he was over the Virginia harvesting limit for blue crabs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

Updated April 1, 2024