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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Florida

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

African Trophy Hunter Indicted For Violating Endangered Species Act And Lacey Act

PENSACOLA, FL – Charles Kokesh, 65, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was indicted today by a federal grand jury in Pensacola, Florida, for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act by selling two African elephant tusks and for making false statements related to that sale. The indictment was announced by Pamela C. Marsh, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.
             The three-count indictment alleges that Kokesh legally imported tusks from a sport-hunted African elephant from Namibia, but thereafter illegally sold the tusks to a buyer in Florida.  The sale price was approximately $8,100, to be paid in a combination of currency and guns.  After the sale, Kokesh allegedly falsely described that sale, in an email to personnel at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as a shipment to an appraiser in anticipation of a donation to a non-profit entity.  Kokesh similarly falsely accounted for the location and disposition of the tusks in subsequent correspondence.  Each false statement is charged under the Lacey Act.
            African elephants are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”).  Both the United States and Namibia are signatories to CITES.  African elephant populations in Namibia are listed in Appendix II of CITES, which includes species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction now, but may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is strictly regulated.  Since 2000, the Namibian African elephant listing has specified that the species cannot be used for commercial purposes. 
            The United States implements CITES through the Endangered Species Act and regulations issued thereunder.  To implement the CITES prohibition against commercial use of African elephant specimens, regulations issued under the Endangered Species Act proscribe the commercial use, including sale, of sport-hunted African elephant trophies, even if the trophies are legally hunted and imported.
            According to a recent report produced by CITES and partner organizations, entitled “Elephants in the Dust –The African Elephant Crisis,” populations of elephants in Africa are under severe threat as the illegal trade in ivory grows – with the number of elephants killed doubling and the  amount of ivory seized tripling over the last decade.  An estimated 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011 to feed the illegal trade.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

The maximum penalty for the charged violation of the Endangered Species Act is up to six months in prison and a $25,000 fine.  The maximum penalty for making a false statement is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

            Today’s indictment comes as a result of an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Edwin F. Knight, of the Northern District of Florida, and Cassandra Barnum, Trial Attorney with the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resource Division.

For more information about CITES visit

Updated January 26, 2015