Operation Cyberwild Leads to Dozen Criminal Cases
Alleging Illegal Sale of Endangered Species through Internet Sites
LOS ANGELES – Federal and state authorities have filed criminal cases against a dozen people who allegedly used Internet sites to illegally sell endangered species and other wildlife protected by federal and state law, including fish, birds and exotic animal pelts.
The charges are the result of Operation Cyberwild, a task force investigation conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), which received substantial assistance from volunteers with the Humane Society of United States.
Operation Cyberwild was announced this morning following the arrest of a Las Vegas man who is charged with selling boots made out of threatened sea turtles.
During Operation Cyberwild, federal agents and state game wardens recovered live endangered fish, protected migratory birds, an elephant foot, and pelts from a tiger, a polar bear, a leopard and a bear.
During the investigation, which began in July 2011, special agents with FWS and game wardens with CDFG focused on Internet advertisements placed by sellers in Southern California and Southern Nevada. As a result of Operation Cyberwild, the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles filed charges against nine defendants, and the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office charged three defendants.
“We made our first undercover purchase within 24 hours of beginning the operation,” said Erin Dean, Resident Agent in Charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Torrance. “We hope that this operation will send a message to individuals selling – or even considering selling – protected wildlife that we are watching and that we take these offenses seriously.”
The 12 defendants charged in federal and state court each allegedly offered for sale animals or animal parts. The defendants are variously charged with violating the federal Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act and various state wildlife laws.
“Our ecosystem is complex and precious. Unfortunately, this delicate system continues to face serious threats, including poaching, the introduction of non-native species and the illegal sale of endangered species,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr.
“The sale of endangered animals on the Internet has reached an alarming level, with as much as two-thirds of such sales taking place in the United States.
These Internet sales of wildlife fuel poaching and make the killing of protected animals more profitable.
Today’s prosecutions are a response to this alarming trend.”
The United States Attorney's Office yesterday filed nine cases in United States District Court in Los Angeles. The defendants charged in federal court are:
George Lovell, 49, of Las Vegas, who allegedly sold a pair of Loggerhead sea turtle leather boots for $1,000 after offering them for sale on Craigslist. Lovell was arrested this morning and is expected to make his initial court appearance this afternoon in federal court in Las Vegas. See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333526296/48adf5cce36d954171041dfc6e010c76
Lisa Naumu, 49, of San Diego, who allegedly sold an $8,000 leopard skin coat after placing an ad on Craigslist that offered three of such coats for sale. See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333529658/d8d2d7c97326074949cfe78539fe6ae0
Victor Northrop, 48, of Henderson, Nevada, who allegedly accepted $10,000 for a rug made out of an endangered tiger after offering the item for sale on Craigslist for $12,500. See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333530688/c7655959c9831be06dff34fa117cb77f
Karla Trejo, 42, of Sherman Oaks, who is charged with selling a live Western Scrub-Jay for $185 after posting an ad on Craigslist. See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333533522/8b2709a3a23fd5440aaab20a81ded004
Dan Tram “Majkah” Huynh, 30, of San Diego, who allegedly sold an Asian arowana to an undercover agent for $2,500 after offering the fish for sale on Craigslist. See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333525190/b6731e5a328b6c1afc248f54a565b368
Henry Dao, 41, of Garden Grove, who allegedly sold two live Red-whiskered Bulbul birds for $1,750 after offering the injurious species for sale on a website used to trade and sell “softbills.” See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333507986/84a034163036dc12f674552a3c37efc0
Alex Madar, 27, of San Diego, who allegedly sold sea turtle leather shoes for $250 after posting the items for sale on Craigslist. See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333528938/9f6bc0aa33f1a687346285a500cc39b7
Kamipeli Piuleini, 35, of Torrance, who allegedly sold a Hawksbill sea turtle shell that had been listed on eBay. See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333532582/0bd46ea58d0011bc58e50f809de14600
Tyler Homesley, 24, of Ramona, who allegedly offered to sell three birds –including two protected migratory birds, a Eurasian kestrel and a Black-shouldered Kite – for $150 after placing an online advertisement (plus a $25 delivery fee for total price of $175). See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333524008/93600bc1dab12beecc4ab2f21c52f11e
All of the federal cases allege misdemeanor violations that carry maximum statutory penalties of either one year or six months in federal prison.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office last month filed three cases.
The defendants charged in state court each face two misdemeanor charges. They are:
Alfredo Vazquez, 50, of Montebello, who allegedly sold to undercover operatives an elephant’s foot, a mounted hawk and a mounted owl See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333535734/ebcec721301b145df1969d218f79d23c
James I. Colburn, 66, of Leona Valley, who allegedly sold a bear skin rug. See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333506432/9af834ec1f372246dbeac68f58586953
Blake William Diekman, 27, of South Pasadena, who allegedly sold a live piranha. See: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1333522700/d31c06f49123c52e48681929b5e02116
Criminal charges contain allegations that a defendant has committed a crime.
Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The Operation Cyberwild task force was assisted by five volunteers from the Humane Society of United States, who searched the Internet for suspicious items and referred the listings to investigators.
CONTACTS: Assistant United States Attorney Rupa S. Goswami
Environmental Crimes Section
Assistant United States Attorney Amanda M. Bettinelli
Environmental Crimes Section
Deputy District Attorney Dan Wright
Environmental Crimes Section
Fish and Game Warden Patrick Foy
California Department of Fish and Game
Release No. 12-003
January 6, 2012
André Birotte Jr.
United States Attorney
Central District of California
Thom Mrozek, Public Affairs Officer
Despite this undercover operation, the trade in tiger bones and skins is still active on eBay as of April 2012.