Missouri Couple Sentenced For Brokering Illegal Sale of Federally-Endangered Tigers
Scott Flaherty, 612-713-5309
Tim Santel, 217-971-5100
The owner of a Cape Girardeau, Mo, animal park and his wife were sentenced today by a federal court in Cape Girardeau, Mo., for their roles in the illegal trafficking of four endangered tigers in 1998. Todd H. Lantz, owner of Lazy L Exotics, was sentenced to five months in prison, three years supervised probation upon release, and ordered to pay $5,000 to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Save the Tiger Fund and a special assessment of $100. Lantz pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection law. Vicki L. Lantz was sentenced to six months home detention, five years probation and ordered to pay a special assessment of $25. Vicki Lantz pleaded guilty to aiding in the illegal sale of the four tigers, a misdemeanor violation of the Endangered Species Act.
In February 1998, Todd Lantz bought four tigers from Freddy Wilmoth, owner of Wild Wilderness Safari Park in Gentry, Ark., and transported them to the 5H Ranch in Cape Girardeau, where the caged animals were shot. The tigers were sold for $4,000 and transported to Illinois where their hides, meat and other parts were sold into the lucrative animal parts trade. After the tigers were killed, Vicki Lantz falsified federal documents to state the tiger's sale was a "donation."
During the sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge E. Richard Webber said the Lantz's and others brokered the sale of 14 tigers, two lions, two cougars and one tiger (a tiger-lion hybrid) into illegal animal trade. Webber said he was appalled that Lantz and his cohorts would kill these majestic creatures, and called their actions "a cowardly thing."
The Lantz's were among five individuals indicted in Missouri last November as a result of a lengthy undercover investigation into illegal trafficking of protected tigers and leopards by special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Timothy Rivers, owner of Animals in Motion Animal Park in Citra, Fla., pleaded guilty August 13 to illegally selling leopards to a buyer in Illinois through Todd Lantz in August 1998 and is scheduled to be sentenced November 20 in Cape Girardeau. Freddy Wilmoth was sentenced May 20 to six months home confinement, three years probation and ordered to pay $10,000 restitution for his role in the sale of the four tigers. Stoney Elam, former operator of Power House Wildlife Sanctuary in Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma, pleaded guilty April 23 to illegally selling two tigers and three leopards and falsifying federal documents. He is scheduled to be sentenced November 7 in St. Louis.
The 18-month investigation, dubbed Operation Snow Plow, resulted in federal charges being filed against 17 defendants in six states. (Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and Illinois). On May 1, a federal court in Chicago indicted six Chicago-area men, a Wisconsin man, and a suburban Chicago exotic meat market for their roles in the killing and sale of tigers, leopards and their parts. In November 2001, a federal court in Ann Arbor, Michigan, charged three Detroit-area men with illegally buying hides of protected tigers.
Tigers are listed as "endangered" under the federal Endangered Species Act. The law also protects leopards, which are classified as either "endangered" or "threatened" depending on the location of the wild population. Although federal regulations allow possession of captive-bred tigers, the regulations stipulate activities involving their use must be to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. It is unlawful to kill the animals for profit, or to sell their hides, parts or meats into interstate commerce.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95 million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
For further information about programs and activities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region, visit our website at http://midwest.fws.gov