Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Evade $42 Million in Duties for Illegally Importing and Selling Plywood
WASHINGTON – Alexander D. Alvarez of Atmore, Ala., pleaded guilty in federal court today to violating the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for illegally selling and possessing the feathers of anhingas and other migratory birds protected under the MBTA, the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama announced.
Alvarez was charged by criminal information on Feb. 1, 2012, with one felony Lacey Act violation, one felony MBTA violation and one misdemeanor MBTA violation. The Lacey Act charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The felony MBTA charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The misdemeanor MBTA charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a fine of $15,000. Sentencing is scheduled for May 22, 2012.
Under the MBTA, the Secretary of the Interior maintains a list of migratory birds which are protected from, among other things, being killed, sold, bartered, transported or possessed, except as otherwise permitted by federal regulation. Enrolled members of federally-recognized American Indian tribes may possess eagle and other migratory bird feathers and parts for religious and ceremonial purposes, but federal law strictly prohibits the sale of migratory birds, feathers or their parts by any person. Alvarez is not an enrolled member of a federally-recognized American Indian tribe. The Lacey Act prohibits, among other things, the sale of wildlife knowing that the wildlife was taken or possessed in violation of any federal wildlife-related regulation or law.
“Mr. Alvarez sought to profit from selling protected bird feathers he had no legal right to possess,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “Federal law prohibits the sale of migratory birds, feathers or their parts for commercial gain. In enforcing these wildlife laws in partnership with tribal law enforcement, we share a duty to protect the nation’s scarce and precious wildlife resources. In protecting these resources for future generations, we also ensure the ability of federally recognized tribal members to possess eagle and migratory bird feathers for religious and ceremonial practices.”
“Protecting our natural resources, particularly wildlife, from being exploited against the law for personal gain continues to be a significant function of the Department of Justice,” said Kenyen R. Brown, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. “Successful prosecutions of this nature help ensure that the next generation of Americans enjoy the same level of wildlife that we do today.”
According to court documents, Alvarez communicated via email with an individual in Louisiana and eventually exchanged two anhinga tails that Alvarez possessed for a crested caracara tail, a Harris’s hawk tail and $400, which the individual possessed. Alvarez later sent 14 sets of anhinga tail feathers to this individual and asked the individual to photograph and offer the tails for sale via email. Alvarez received payment from the Louisiana individual for the anhinga tail feathers that were sold. A federal search warrant was executed at Alvarez’s home on March 11, 2009, and feathers from several migratory bird species were seized.
This case resulted from an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement into the illegal commercialization of eagles and other migratory birds protected by federal law. The investigation was jointly conducted with the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama and the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section.