Illinois man sentenced for concealing hide of federally-protected leopard Two men sentenced for illegal trade in endangered tigers and leopards
Timothy R. Laurie of Elgin. Ill., was sentenced this fall in federal court in Chicago to four months home detention, four years probation and 200 hours of community service for knowingly concealing the hide of a federally-protected leopard that was illegally imported into the United States. Laurie was also ordered to pay $10,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundations Save the Tiger Fund and a $100 court assessment.
Laurie was among eight defendants indicted May 1, 2002, in Chicago on various federal wildlife protection laws relating to trafficking and killing endangered tigers, leopards and their parts. Laurie pleaded guilty May 23, to knowingly concealing the hide of a federally-protected leopard that had been illegally imported into the United States, a felony. In his plea agreement, Laurie admitted that in January 1997, he took possession of a skull and hide of two endangered leopards that were illegally transported into the United States from South Africa and that, in May 1998, he purchased false documents that made it appear the leopard skull and hide, as well as another illegally obtained leopard hide, were from captive bred animals that died from natural causes. Laurie also admitted that, in January 1997, he purchased a tiger that was killed and skinned on his property, and then mounted by a taxidermist for display at his residence. Laurie also obtained falsified U.S. Department of Agriculture forms declaring that the tiger had been donated to him.
George F. Riley of Farmington, Mich., was sentenced Oct. 7 in federal court in Detroit after pleading guilty to receiving the hides of two endangered tigers, a misdemeanor. Riley was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to pay a community service donation of $30,000 to be divided between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundations Save the Tiger Fund ($20,000) and the Lacey Reward Fund ($10,000). His plea agreement also requires him to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation into the illegal exotic animal trade.
The defendants were charged following a lengthy undercover investigation by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called Operation Snow Plow. Service investigators, working closely with U. S. attorneys offices in Illinois, Missouri and Michigan. uncovered a group of residents and small business owners in the Midwest that allegedly bought and killed exotic tigers, leopards, snow leopards, lions, mountain lions, cougars, mixed breed cats and black bears with the intention of introducing meat and skins into the lucrative animal parts trade. The investigation resulted in federal wildlife charges against 17 individuals in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Florida and one Illinois meat market. All but two defendants, William Kapp of Tinley Park. Ill., and Richard Czimer of Lockport, Ill., have either pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing or have already been sentenced.
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, wildlife and plants 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 service 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.