Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Evade $42 Million in Duties for Illegally Importing and Selling Plywood
WASHINGTON—Rene Soliz of Alice, Texas, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, Texas, to a violation of the Lacey Act for attempting to receive fifteen Tanzanian leopard tortoises that were transported into the United States in violation of a law, regulation or treaty, specifically, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Justice Department announced.
According to statements made in court, in March 2006, Soliz, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, contacted an individual in Dar-Es Salaam, Tanzania, who was selling leopard tortoises. Soliz asked to buy eight of the tortoises and indicated an interest in buying more at a later date as part of a long-term business relationship. On April 7, 2006, a U.S. Customs inspector at John F. Kennedy International Airport intercepted the package containing the tortoises being sent to Soliz. The package was labeled as containing 50 live scorpions. When a U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspector opened the package, he found 14 live leopard tortoises and one dead leopard tortoise.
Leopard tortoises are listed in Appendix II of CITES. The CITES Appendices list species afforded different levels or types of protection from over-exploitation. Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. International trade in specimens of Appendix II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit from the exporting country. No export permit accompanied the tortoises bought by Soliz.
“Soliz traded in a threatened tortoise species in violation of laws, designed to protect wildlife from extinction,” said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, “Today’s guilty plea affirms the Justice Department’s intention to investigate and prosecute individuals who choose to undermine federal wildlife laws and contribute to the endangerment of protected species.”
Soliz faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. As part of the plea agreement, Soliz will resign from the U.S. Border Patrol.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Claire Whitney of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section. The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.