Antiques Shop Owner Guilty of Smuggling Endangered Wildlife
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The owner of an antiques and specialty shop in Middleburg pleaded guilty today to violating the Lacey Act by illegally selling and transporting between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of items made from endangered species, migratory birds, and other wildlife.
According to court documents, Keith Foster, 60, of Upperville, was the owner of The Outpost LLC. The Outpost specialized in selling foreign-sourced merchandise, a portion of which included wildlife products made from endangered species such as crocodiles, sea turtles, and sawfish. To evade enforcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Foster relied on a shipping company to falsify import records in order to hide wildlife items and avoid inspection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other law enforcement officials.
According to court documents, on numerous occasions beginning in December 2016, Foster discussed with a customer the unlawful nature of his conduct, including telling a customer it was illegal to import sawfish blades but he was going to continue to smuggle them, saying, “Rest assured, I’m gonna bring more in. Cause I’m the only fool in the States that probably wants to risk it.”
During March and April 2017, Foster imported over 100 undeclared wildlife items, including items protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) such as sea turtle shell, sawfish blades, crocodile skin bags, coral, and mounted birds of prey. CITES is an international treaty that provides protection to fish, wildlife and plant populations that are or could be harmed as a result of trade and restricts the international trade and transport of species that are threatened with extinction.
According to court documents, on April 12, 2017, Foster showed a customer numerous wildlife pieces for sale, including sawfish blades, turtle shell, ivory, zebra hide, crocodile, and various birds and bird parts. Foster told the customer about smuggling wildlife, about lacking the proper CITES permits to purchase, export, and later import some protected wildlife, and about the dangers of being caught by United States Customs. The customer then purchased numerous wildlife items including sawfish blades, a mounted barn owl, and a jar made from sea turtle shell, all of which were previously smuggled by The Outpost. The customer was in fact an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent.
As part of his plea agreement, Foster and The Outpost forfeited $275,000 and over 175 items made from wildlife, which were previously smuggled and being offered for sale.
Foster pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act and faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison when sentenced on March 8, 2019. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Edward Grace, Acting Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon D. Kromberg is prosecuting the case.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:18-cr-455 and 1:18-cr-456.