Tennessee Men Plead Guilty to Illegally Trafficking Narwhal Tusk
Anchorage, Alaska - U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced today two plea agreements in a multi-national conspiracy to illegally import and sell narwhal tusks.
Jay G. Conrad, of Lakeland, Tennessee, pleaded guilty in the District of Maine to conspiring to illegally import and traffic narwhal tusks, conspiring to launder money, and illegally trafficking narwhal tusks, announced Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. A plea agreement was also unsealed in which Eddie T. Dunn, of Eads, Tennessee, pleaded guilty in the District of Alaska to conspiring to illegally traffic, and trafficking, narwhal tusks.
According to the plea agreements, beginning in approximately 2003, Dunn and Conrad partnered to buy more than 100 narwhal tusks from a Canadian resident. Each knew the tusks were illegally imported from Canada into Maine. After receiving the tusks in Tennessee, Dunn and Conrad marketed and sold the tusks using a combination of internet sales via the “Ebay” auction website and direct sales to known buyers and collectors of ivory. Buyers were located throughout the United States, including in Alaska and Washington. Throughout the conspiracy, Dunn and Conrad made payments to the Canadian supplier for the narwhal tusks by sending the payment to a mailing address in Bangor, Maine, or directly to the supplier in Canada. The payments allowed the Canadian supplier to purchase and re-supply Dunn and Conrad with more narwhal tusks that they could then resell. Dunn sold approximately $1.1 million worth of narwhal tusks and Conrad sold between $400,000 and $1 million worth of narwhal tusks as members of the conspiracy.
“This investigation uncovered and dismantled a wildlife trafficking network that spanned from New Brunswick to Tennessee and reached as far as Alaska,” said Karen Loeffler, U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska. “The results reached demonstrate the close cooperation between the United States and Canada and their law enforcement officers whose duty it is to investigate, stop and deter those who illegally target diminishing wildlife resources and do so for commercial gain.”
“In this conspiracy, Dunn and Conrad flouted U.S. law and international agreements that protect marine mammals like the narwhal from commercial exploitation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher. “If left unchecked, this illegal trade has the potential to irreparably harm the species. The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute wildlife traffickers in order to protect these species for future generations to enjoy.”
“The cooperation between Service and NOAA investigators and between the United States and Canada that led to these prosecutions reflects the type of partnerships needed to protect narwhals and other species worldwide from wildlife trafficking,” said William C. Woody, Assistant Director for Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “NOAA OLE takes the unlawful importation of protected marine mammals very seriously,” said NOAA-Office of Law Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Logan Gregory. “NOAA OLE will continue to investigate those who unlawfully import marine mammal products and profit from marine protected species such as the narwhal.”
A narwhal is a medium-sized whale with an extremely long tusk that projects from its upper left jaw. Narwhals are marine mammals protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It is illegal to import parts of marine mammals into the United States without the requisite permits/certifications, and without declaring the merchandise at the time of importation to U.S. Customs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Narwhal tusks are commonly collected for display purposes and can fetch large sums of money.
Dunn is scheduled to be sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Beistline in the District of Alaska on March 20, 2014. The maximum penalty Dunn faces for conspiring to illegally traffic, and trafficking narwhal tusks is five years of incarceration and a fine of $250,000. The maximum penalty Conrad faces for conspiring to illegally import and illegally traffic narwhal tusks, conspiring to commit money laundering crimes and illegally trafficking narwhal tusks is twenty years of incarceration and a fine of $250,000.
The trial of co-defendant Andrew J. Zarauskas is set to begin in Bangor, Maine, on February 4, 2014. Co-defendant Gregory R. Logan is pending extradition from Canada to the District of Maine.
These cases are part of Operation Nanook, a multi-agency effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the unlawful trafficking of narwhal tusks. The cases were investigated by agents from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - Office of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Office of Law Enforcement, with extensive support and collaboration from Environment Canada - Wildlife Enforcement. The cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Todd S. Mikolop of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven E. Skrocki of the District of Alaska.