Sale of Imported Animal Goods Results in Federal Charges by Texas Prosecutors

Hunting is a popular activity throughout Texas, but both state and federal laws set important limits on when and what types of animals people may hunt. A number of laws also restrict the purchase and sale of products derived from certain animals, especially non-native animals and animals deemed “endangered” by federal laws or treaties. Texas is reportedly becoming a hub for the illegal trade of various animal products, including rhinoceros horns. Several recent cases demonstrate the potential criminal consequences of buying or selling these types of items.

One of the main federal statutes restricting commerce in certain animals and animal products is the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. This law is mostly known for restricting development in areas that are habitats for certain animal species, but it also imposes criminal penalties for unauthorized importation, transport, or sale of those species. The Lacey Act of 1900, 16 U.S.C. § 3371 et seq., addresses animals and animal products obtained through illegal hunting, and it has a broader scope than the ESA in terms of the species it protects. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918, 16 U.S.C. § 703 et seq., addresses unauthorized hunting, capturing, or trading in designated species of migratory birds.

The federal government has been engaged in an operation for several years involving multiple agencies, nicknamed “Operation Crash,” with the goal of prosecuting people involved in the trafficking of rhinoceros horns. Five species of rhinoceros are designated as “endangered” under the ESA. 50 C.F.R. § 17.11(h).

A taxidermist in Austin, Texas was charged with violations of the Lacey Act in connection with the alleged sale of rhinoceros horns. United States v. Brommel, No. 6:15-cr-00020, information (W.D. Tex., Feb. 6, 2015). He pleaded guilty in March 2015 to one count of falsely labeling wildlife transported in interstate commerce, which carries a possible sentence of up to five years in prison. 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(d)(2), 3373(d)(3)(A). Prosecutors had previously brought similar charges against the purchaser. United States v. Slattery, No. 1:13-cr-00615, complaint (E.D.N.Y., Sep. 14, 2013). He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and was sentenced to 14 months in prison.

Federal prosecutors charged a Dallas, Texas man with multiple offenses in connection with the trafficking of hummingbird carcasses in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and federal law. United States v. Rodriguez, No. 4:14-cr-00094, indictment (E.D. Tex., May 14, 2014). Hummingbird carcasses are reportedly sold as charms known as chuparosas, after the Spanish word for hummingbird. He faced charges for false labeling under the Lacey Act; violations of CITES under the ESA, 16 U.S.C. § 1538(c)(1); and violations of the MBTA, 16 U.S.C. § 703, 50 C.F.R. § 10.13(c). He pleaded guilty to one count of violating the MBTA and was sentenced to four years’ probation.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Board-certified criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has more than 20 years’ experience defending the rights of people in west Texas who are facing state and federal criminal charges. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

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