Burlington, Vermont – The United States Attorney’s Office stated that Pedro Huertas, 69, of Pasadena, California, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawfully importing wildlife parts (carvings from sperm whale teeth and a walrus tusk). On October 17, 2023, Chief Judge Geoffrey Crawford accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Huertas to a criminal penalty of $50,000 and no term of imprisonment. The Court also ordered the forfeiture of the four ivory carvings involved in the offense. This Lacey Act offense is punishable with up to a $100,000 fine and one year of imprisonment.
According to court documents, on July 25, 2021, Huertas arrived at the Highgate Springs, Vermont Port-of-Entry with his wife after purchasing nine Inuit carvings from an art gallery in Montreal, Quebec. When asked by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer what he was bringing back from Quebec, Huertas replied “one stone statue.” After inspecting the trunk of Huertas’ vehicle, the CBP Officer discovered nine statues, four of which were made of ivory. Huertas admitted that they were made from walrus tusk. The CBP seized these four carvings and released Huertas. Huertas resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts at this time.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later determined that three of the carvings were made of sperm whale teeth. These carvings are called “Tupilaks.” In Inuit mythology Tupilaks are considered a physical representation of supernatural spirits. The three seized Tupilaks are depicted below:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife confirmed that the fourth statue, called “Kayakers,” was made of a walrus tusk. This carving is depicted below:
Sperm whales are an endangered species and are protected under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Walrus, while not an endangered species, is still a protected species under the MMPA and CITES. In order to import parts from these protected mammals into the United States, Huertas was required to obtain certain import and export permits. Huertas did not apply or obtain any such permits.
U.S. Attorney Nikolas Kerest praised the investigative work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Customs and Border Protection. U.S. Attorney Kerest also emphasized the importance of vigorously enforcing federal wildlife laws in order to reduce the illegal trade in the parts of protected wildlife species.
This matter was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Customs and Border Protection. The United States is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Perella. Pedro Huertas is represented by Mark Kaplan, Esq. of Burlington, Vermont.