A dozen people have been charged in connection with illegally selling rare fish, birds and exotic animal pelts over the Internet, authorities said on Friday.
The case, dubbed Operation Cyberwild, was announced following the arrest of a Las Vegas man who was charged with selling boots made out of threatened sea turtles.
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, agents and game wardens targeted Internet ads placed by sellers in Southern California and southern Nevada.
“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,” said Erin Dean, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Torrance.
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.
United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. said 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. He said that Internet sales of wildlife fuel poaching and make the killing of protected animals more profitable.
“Unfortunately, this delicate system continues to face serious threats, including poaching, the introduction of non-native species and the illegal sale of endangered species,” he said.
Paul Todd, the program manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, applauded the effort.
"We hope 'Operation Cyberwild' serves as a wake up call to Internet-based marketplaces," he said in a statement. "The Internet wildlife trade must be addressed if we are to save these animals from extinction at the hands of poachers and their worldwide criminal trade networks."
The defendants charged in the case are:
- George Lovell, 49, of Las Vegas;
- Lisa Naumu, 49, of San Diego;
- Victor Northrop, 48, of Henderson, Nevada;
- Karla Trejo, 42, of Sherman Oaks;
- Dan Tram “Majkah” Huynh, 30, of San Diego;
- Henry Dao, 41, of Garden Grove;
- Alex Madar, 27, of San Diego;
- Kamipeli Piuleini, 35, of Torrance
- Tyler Homesley, 24, of Ramona;
- Alfredo Vazquez, 50, of Montebello
- James I. Colburn, 66, of Leona Valley;
- Blake William Diekman, 27, of South Pasadena.