Man Pleads Guilty to Violating Endangered Species Act
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Fredericksburg man pleaded guilty today to the unlawful sale of endangered species, including elephant and whale ivory.
According to court documents, Gary L. Cooper, 60, operated online storefronts to sell elephant and whale ivory, all in violation of the Endangered Species Act. From at least June 2015 through early 2020, Cooper used online platforms, such as Craigslist and eBay, to list for sale individual carvings made in whole, or in part, from ivory. These items ranged in size, including two raw elephant tusks that measured at least 28 inches long. In addition to several raw and carved tusks, the advertisements offered numerous elephant ivory carvings and both raw and scrimshawed sperm whale teeth. Cooper told his clients, including an undercover agent, that he was selling off an estate belonging to an elderly couple in poor health, when in reality he was regularly buying ivory online and flipping the pieces for profit.
Over about a sixteen-month period beginning in September 2018, Cooper did business with United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) undercover agents by selling or offering for sale no less than 50 pieces of elephant ivory, with a total market value between $40,000 and $95,000. During their correspondence, Cooper and the undercover agents discussed the illegality of buying and selling ivory across state lines. On November 17, 2018, Cooper offered to sell to an undercover USFWS Special Agent multiple ivory pieces for a total cost of $8,125. On November 26, 2018, Cooper sold two pieces of carved elephant ivory to the undercover agent and mailed the items from Virginia to New York. Upon forensic investigation, the items were confirmed to be genuine elephant ivory.
Cooper is scheduled to be sentenced on August 31. As part of the plea, Cooper will forfeit approximately 136 pieces of raw and carved ivory. He faces a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison. 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.
Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Ryan Noel, Special Agent-in-Charge, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, made the announcement after U.S. Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson accepted the plea.
This investigation was conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alejandra Arias and Sara Hallmark are prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:21-mj-212.