Andrew L. Zarauskas, 60, of Union, N.J., was found guilty today by a federal jury in Bangor, Maine, of illegally trafficking and smuggling narwhal tusks, and associated money laundering crimes, announced Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division
The defendant was convicted of conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, smuggling, and money laundering violations for buying narwhal tusks knowing the tusks had been illegally imported into the United States from Canada, as well as selling or attempting to sell the tusks after their illegal importation.
“The Justice Department takes seriously our responsibility to prosecute those who engage in the illegal trade of any protected wildlife species,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher. “Zarauskas and his co-conspirators flouted U.S. law and international agreements that protect marine mammals such as the narwhal for their own personal financial benefit. The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute those engaged in this insidious trade in order to protect species for future generations to enjoy.”
"The success of this investigation was a direct result of the uncompromising cooperation between special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA and Environment Canada. It is this type of international teamwork which exemplifies the ongoing fight against illegal wildlife trafficking."
said William C. Woody, Assistant Director for Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This investigation is an example of excellent coordinated efforts between NOAA, Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement” said Logan Gregory, Special Agent In Charge for NOAA.
The protection of Marine Mammals and enforcement of the Marine Mammal Protection Act is a high priority for OLE and we will continue to work with our enforcement partners and the Department of Justice to ensure compliance.”
From 2002 to 2008, Zarauskas knowingly purchased approximately 33 narwhal tusks that he knew were illegally imported into the United States in violation of federal law.
A narwhal is a medium-sized whale with an extremely long tusk that projects from its upper left jaw, often referred to as the unicorn of the sea.
As marine mammals narwhals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
It is illegal to import parts of marine mammals into the United States without the requisite permits/certifications, and without declaring the merchandise at the time of importation to U.S. Customs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Narwhal tusks are commonly collected for display purposes and can fetch large sums of money.
According to evidence presented at the trial, Zarauskas conspired with others, including persons located in Canada, to illegally import the protected tusks for re-sale in the United States and to launder the funds used to purchase the narwhal tusks by transporting, transmitting, or transferring checks and money orders from New Jersey to Canada, intending that the money be used for further illegal imports of narwhal tusks.
On Jan. 7, 2014, Jay G. Conrad, of Lakeland, Tenn., who had been charged in the same indictment, pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally import and traffic narwhal tusks, conspiring to launder money, and illegally trafficking narwhal tusks.
On that same date, a plea agreement was also unsealed in which Eddie T. Dunn, of Eads, Tenn., pleaded guilty in the District of Alaska to conspiring to illegally traffic, and trafficking, narwhal tusks.
Throughout the conspiracy, Zarauskus and his co-conspirators made payments to the Canadian supplier for the narwhal tusks, by sending the payments to a mailing address in Bangor, Maine, or directly to the supplier in Canada.
The payments allowed the Canadian supplier to purchase and re-supply Zarauskus and Conrad with more narwhal tusks that they could then re-sell.
Conrad sold between $400,000 and $1 million worth of narwhal tusks and Dunn sold approximately $1.1 million worth of narwhal tusks as members of the conspiracy.
Earlier this week, President Obama announced the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, recognizing that record high demand for wildlife products, coupled with inadequate preventative measures and weak institutions has resulted in an explosion of illicit trade in recent years.
Like other forms of illicit trade, wildlife trafficking undermines security across nations.
While t he Department of Justice has long worked to protect threatened and endangered wildlife species through its enforcement of the Lacey Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, among other laws, the National Strategy identifies priority areas for increased interagency coordination, with the objectives of harnessing and strategically applying the full breadth of U.S. Government resources to end the pernicious trade in protected species both at home and abroad.
Zarauskus and Conrad are to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock in the District of Maine.
A sentencing date has not been set.
They each face a maximum of twenty years incarceration for their involvement in this narwhal tusk trafficking scheme, and a fine of up to $250,000. Dunn is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Beistline in the District of Alaska on March 20, 2014, and may be imprisoned up to five years and fined $250,000.
Co-defendant Gregory R. Logan is pending extradition from Canada to the District of Maine.
The case was investigated by agents from National Oceanic and Atomospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and in coordination with Environmental Canada Wildlife Enforcement Division and the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Todd S. Mikolop and James Nelson of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.