A drug-smuggling ring that killed an informer and cut up his body while trafficking in a half-million pounds of marijuana has been broken, the Federal authorities said today.
The ring also bribed police officers to protect their operation, said Richard Gregorie, the chief assistant United States Attorney here. At one time, the indictment charged, members of the ring used Miami police officers to collect, count and disburse drug profits.
The ring operated for at least 10 years, smuggling the marijuana, along with some cocaine, into Louisiana and Florida, Mr. Gregorie said.
Six of the seven people indicted in the case were arrested here by a special Federal law-enforcement group combatting drug smuggling. The seventh was in custody in another state. $50,000 Caught by Agent Among those arrested were the men who the authorities said headed the ring, Mario Tabraue and his father, Guillermo. When the men were arrested at their homes in Dade County, Mario Tabraue’s wife tossed a bundle of $50,000 in cash out the back window, said Lloyd E. Dean, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation here. The money was caught by a Federal agent, Mr. Dean said.
The authorities said that in July 1980, members of the group apparently became aware that Larry Nash was an informer for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
”Mr. Nash was murdered and mutilated,” Mr. Dean said. ”His body was cut up with a chain saw and then burned.”
The ring paid bribes totaling $150,000 to a former Key West deputy police chief, Raymond Casamayor, and other Monroe County officials, the indictment said. Mr. Casamayor is serving a 30-year prison sentence in a separate case.
The indictment also charged that from the fall of 1977 until at least the end of 1979 Mario Tabraue had Miami police officers collecting, counting and disbursing large amounts of cash made from the ring.
No Miami officers were named in the indictment. ”But the investigation is still continuing,” Mr. Gregorie said.
Listen to Scott Lope talk about Nikita the Lioness his favorite cat at the sanctuary. Nikita was seized by police in a drug raid and when she arrived at Big Cat Rescue she was severely underweight and had developed growths on her legs from lying on a hard surface all the time. Since then eating a grrreat diet and having a one acre enclosure to run around in, she as made a full recovery and is a very large and very beautiful mature lioness!
Stay tuned for more spotlights on particular favorites at Big Cat Rescue and if you would like us to feature a particular cat that you have sponsored or just want to know more about let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org
Illegally traded animals can end up anywhere from a cooking pot in Asia to a pet shop in Europe
Humming birds bound and stuffed in cigarette packets, snakes and tortoises inside a hollowed out teddy bear, exotic birds’ eggs made into necklaces—these are just some of the myriad ways used to smuggle wildlife in a lucrative worldwide trade.
Run by organized crime, the illegal trade in wildlife and animal parts is estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars per year, making it the biggest money-maker for organized crime after drugs, according to Interpol, the international police body.
Stingrays and piranhas from South America; star tortoises from India; pygmy slow lorises, a primate, from South Asia; rare albino carpet pythons from Australia; Hawaiian chameleons; endangered sea turtles; West African songbirds—the list of smuggled species is endless.
The animals are stolen from their natural habitat by poachers and spirited out, mostly to developed countries where collectors or those who simply want an unusual gift for their kid’s birthday can afford the exorbitant prices charged.
“Some of these rare parrots or deer falcons can fetch up to $100,000,” says Michael O’Sullivan, chairman and CEO of The Humane Society of Canada (HSC).
And although many creatures do not survive the trip because they are smuggled in cruel conditions, the trade still proves profitable to organized crime.
“The figure that is often quoted is that only one out of about every 10 animals that start out the journey actually survive it,” says O’Sullivan, a veteran of undercover work in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere.
The illegal wildlife trade, coupled with the destruction of habitat and the hunting of wild animals for food, has put the world’s wildlife “under assault,” he says.
In addition, many of the animals traded are already endangered. “The more rare they are, the higher the price they command. The endangered species are actually more valuable.”
Wildlife smuggled out of Canada includes falcons, especially deer falcons, which are highly prized in Middle Eastern countries. Eagle parts, bear paws, and bear gall bladders—which sell for up to $10,000 each in Asia—are also in demand.
Once a successful pipeline has been established for smuggling wildlife, crime networks will use it to smuggle drugs, illegal weapons, people, and other contraband. Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States are among the top 10 smuggling hubs for wildlife.
HSC partners with Interpol to fight the illegal wildlife trade. In a five-country sweep in Africa last November, Interpol, HSC, and other groups seized one ton of illegal elephant ivory. Fifty seven people were arrested. The African elephant was declared endangered in 1978.
In cooperation with Interpol, HSC has set up a fund to help provide support for the families of park rangers who are killed by poachers.
“It’s a very dangerous job. At least 100 [rangers] are killed every year throughout the world. The poachers are armed with automatic weapons, high tech gear, the latest and fastest boats and aircraft, and four wheel drives,” O’Sullivan says.
Drug gangs in Mexico and Colombia are known to be partial to exotic pets themselves, the most common being venomous snakes, lions, tigers, and hippos. Rumour has it that some cartel leaders throw the bodies of their rivals to the big cats as food.
Drug gang leaders like to own rare animals as a status symbol and often build private zoos at their mansions. A raid on a drug mansion last year in Mexico City uncovered two black jaguars, two lions, two Bengal tigers, and a monkey.
China and the U.S. are the largest markets for illegally traded wildlife. The demand in China for exotic meats for consumption, and for animal parts to make medicine has virtually wiped out the country’s small wildlife. Now, in a multi-million dollar smuggling business, poachers are branching out into surrounding countries in order to supply this market.
Conservationists fear that Bokor National Park, one of Asia’s last surviving wildernesses, is becoming rapidly depleted of its wildlife. According to a Sky News report, 50 rangers armed with AK 47s patrol the park, but they are losing the battle with the poachers.
While poor villagers do the poaching, the operation is actually run by organized crime. The stolen animals include chameleon lizards, poisonous cobras, and the protected leopard cat. Tigers are taken from the forests of Burma, brush-tailed porcupines from Indonesia, and makak monkeys from Cambodia.
The majority of the bear gall bladders smuggled out of Canada end up in China and Korea. With the Asiatic bear in danger of extinction, the illegal trade in bear parts is creating growing pressure on the black bear populations in other countries.
Canada’s black bears are protected by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES, to which 175 countries are signatories, sets controls on the international trade and movement of animal and plant species that are threatened due to excessive commercial exploitation.
However, while countries can be sanctioned and have trade prohibited under CITES, it doesn’t impose penalties; seizures, fines, and imprisonment are up to the laws of individual countries.
Wildlife organizations complain that, if caught, smugglers often face little more than an inadequate fine or a short jail term in most countries.
O’Sullivan says a “useful tool” in existence in many countries for fighting the illegal wildlife trade is conspiracy laws and organized crime laws that can be used to seize assets.
“The only way to attack these organized crime networks is to go after their money, throw them in jail, confiscate their homes and the aircraft they use, and smash these networks. Because they are in fact organized crime, I think it’s in everyone’s interest to shut these people down.”
In the meantime, he says, being domesticated “is a terrible life for a wild animal. We ought to leave them alone with their families in the wilderness where they belong. They don’t belong as pets.”
MEXICO CITY – From the live snakes that smugglers stuff with packets of cocaine to the white tigers drug lords keep as exotic pets, rare animals are being increasingly sucked into Mexico’s deadly narcotics trade.
Drug gang leaders like to show off rarities like sea turtle skin boots and build ostentatious private zoos at their mansions.
They also reap additional profits by sharing routes with animal traffickers who cram humming birds into cigarette packs and baby monkeys into car air conditioning ducts to be sold to underground pet traders in the United States.
Mexico’s raging drug war killed some 5,700 people last year and some cartel leaders have even been rumored to throw rivals to their big cats as food.
The global illegal trade in live species and animal parts — used for luxury accessories, Asian medicine or folk remedies like aphrodisiacs — is estimated to be worth up to $20 billion a year, Interpol has said.
The big profits available from selling wildlife on the black market — where a certain type of endangered South American macaw can fetch $90,000 and a predatory python around $30,000 — are added incentive to Mexican gangs moving other contraband.
“You can sometimes make as much profit, if not more, than drug smuggling with less consequences, because law enforcement is not paying attention and if you are caught the penalty is just a slap on the wrist,” said Crawford Allan, the North American head of wildlife trade watchdog group Traffic.
TURTLE SKIN AND COCAINE
China and the United States are the largest markets for banned pets and animal products, making the US-Mexico border a busy corridor for the smuggling of many rare species from across Latin America and other parts of the world.
“There is some evidence the same people are trading in both (drugs and animals),” Allan said in Mexico City, where Traffic is helping train inspectors to spot banned animal shipments.
In a major 2007 sting operation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the largest of its kind, undercover agents spent three years infiltrating a ring smuggling endangered sea turtle skins from the shores of southern Mexico to as far north as Chicago.
Illegal drugs turned up on both sides of the border over the course of the investigation, US Fish and Wildlife agent Nicholas Chavez said.
In the United States, marijuana was seized at one of the raided warehouses filled with animal skin boots. On the Mexican side, smugglers offered to ship cocaine along with the hides of turtles whose numbers are rapidly dwindling in the wild.
“It was just thrown out there like ‘Hey, we can also move this stuff if you want.’… They are pretty much moving anything that they can,” Chavez said.
The animals can serve a double purpose when they are used to cover up drug shipments.
“You have cases where there are drugs hidden in false compartments within crates containing live venomous snakes and written on top it says: ‘Venomous snakes. Don’t open!’ So no customs guy is going to want to open that,” Allan said.
Bags of liquid cocaine, transparent and only barely visible due to its slight yellow hue, have been found floating in or lining plastic bags containing live tropical fish.
In one shocking case at Miami’s international airport, some of the 312 boa constrictors found in a 1993 shipment from Colombia were surgically implanted with condoms full of cocaine weighing a total of 80 pounds (36 kg). All the snakes ended up dead.
Colombian drug lords used to stock their own private zoos with lions, tigers, hippos, venomous snakes and other exotic animals, and Mexico’s cartel leaders picked up the same hobby as they took over as dominant players in the cocaine industry.
The head of the Gulf Cartel’s feared armed wing the Zetas had two lions and a tiger on his ranch and it is widely rumored, and sometimes printed in newspapers, that he fed the cats with the bodies of cartel rivals.
Mexico’s local market for exotic pets is also growing.
Since they breed well in captivity, you can legally buy a tiger in Mexico for a couple of thousand dollars, less than the cost of some pedigree dogs, government officials say.
“It’s a show of power and is incredibly common in the criminal underworld. The worst of the worst have exotic animals,” Patricio Patron, the head of Mexico’s environmental protection agency, told Reuters.
A raid on a drug mansion last year in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood netted a menagerie of two lions, two Bengal tigers, two black jaguars and a monkey — all of them well-fed and likely tended to by a personal veterinarian.
But not all pets are as lucky as the somewhat tubby big cats, which were sent to a public zoo after the drug raid.
Many smuggled animals do not survive their long, dark, suffocating journeys.
Chavez, the U.S. agent who works along the US-Mexico border, once found nine baby monkeys — which are usually captured in the wild after their mother is killed — crammed into a car’s air conditioning ducts, most of them dead of suffocation.
Jorge Yanez, a government wildlife expert who runs a shelter for rescued animals in central Mexico, said he once saw four hummingbirds bound and stuffed into an empty pack of cigarettes.
“For every 10 that are trafficked, only one survives,” Yanez said at the shelter, which is nestled in a pine forest and works to rehabilitate and release into the wild Mexican species like hawks, wild boars and lynxes that were seized in police raids or handed in by overwhelmed owners.