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Press Release

Owner Of Yountville Art Gallery Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy To Traffick Protected Wildlife

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California

SAN FRANCISCO- Michael Polenske pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco yesterday to wildlife trafficking and conspiracy, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Special Agent in Charge William Giles.

Polenske, 53, of Napa, is the owner of Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, a fine art and antique gallery as well as a wine tasting collective in Yountville, Calif.  In pleading guilty today, Polenske admitted conspiring in 2007 through 2011 to sell wildlife that he knew or should have known was possessed, transported, and sold in violation of federal laws.  Specifically, he pleaded guilty to trafficking a sea turtle shell protected by the Endangered Species Act in September 2011.  He also admitted selling and purchasing for sale other sea turtle shells, whale bones, orca jaws, and a seal head.  Polenske further admitted importing the wildlife items into the United States from European vendors using false labels, with the assistance of international shipping company Hedley’s Humpers, Ltd.  Trafficking these items violated the Endangered Species Act, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  The United States charged Polenske by Information on August 10, 2015, with one count of conspiracy to traffic and smuggle wildlife, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and one count of wildlife trafficking, in violation of 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(1) and 3373(d)(2).

Hedley’s Humpers, Ltd. pleaded guilty on March 31, 2015, to wildlife smuggling based on false labeling in connection with Polenske’s imports.  On July 7, 2015, the corporation was sentenced to three years’ probation and was ordered to pay $100,000 in fines and community service payments.

Sentencing for Polenske is scheduled for November 13, 2015, at 10:30 a.m., before the Honorable Joseph C. Spero, U.S. Magistrate Judge, in San Francisco.  The plea agreement specifies that Polenske will pay $63,231.68 in fines but does not resolve the amount of time, if any, Polenske will serve in prison.  The maximum statutory prison term for violations of 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(1) and 3373(d)(2) and 18 U.S.C. § 371 is one year imprisonment.  Polenske’s sentence also will include a special assessment and, if imprisonment is ordered, a term of supervised release.  However, any sentence will be imposed by the Court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hartley M.K. West is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Rosario Calderon.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Border Enforcement Security Task Force.

Updated August 12, 2015