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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

MAN SENTENCED FOR ROLE IN ILLEGAL IMPORTATION AND TRAFFICKING IN NARWHAL TUSKS

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Monday, January 12, 2015
New Jersey Man Sentenced to 33 Months in Prison for Trafficking in Illegally-Imported Narwhal Tusks and Money Laundering

Andrew J. Zarauskas, a New Jersey resident, was sentenced to 33 months in prison for illegally importing and trafficking in narwhal tusks and associated money laundering crimes, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.  Zarauskas was also ordered to forfeit $85,089, six narwhal tusks and one narwhal skull.  In addition, Zarauskas was ordered to pay a fine of $7,500.  His prison sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release.

On Feb. 14, 2014, a federal jury in Bangor, Maine, convicted Zarauskas on six counts, including conspiracy, smuggling violations for buying and illegally importing narwhal tusks into the United States and money laundering violations associated with the illegal importations.  The market value of the teeth and tusks illegally imported by Zarauskas was determined to be between $120,000 and $200,000.

Narwhals are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are covered by the international Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  It is illegal to import parts of the narwhal into the United States without a permit and without declaring the parts at the time of importation to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The Justice Department is committed to the fight to save the world’s protected wildlife species, many of which are under sustained attack by poachers and wildlife traffickers,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden.  “We are particularly grateful to our federal and Canadian law enforcement partners for unraveling this scheme to traffic in narwhal tusks and for bringing Zarauskas and his co-conspirators to justice.”

“The significant penalties imposed today for Mr. Zarauskas send a powerful message to any individual that decides to engage in the trade of illegal wildlife,” said Deputy Assistant Director for Law Enforcement Edward Grace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “We will continue to work closely with our international, federal and state partners to root out those individuals who exploit protected wildlife species for their own financial gain.”

“This is yet another case where dedicated investigators helped stop an international smuggling ring attempting to profit from the illegal exploitation and trade of vulnerable and threatened marine species,” said Assistant Administrator Eileen Sobeck for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries.  “NOAA will continue to work in collaboration with our international, federal and state law enforcement partners to make sure marine resources are protected now and into the future.”

According to the evidence presented a trial, Zarauskas purchased approximately 33 narwhal tusks over nearly six years from two Canadian co-defendants.  The Canadian co-defendants purchased the narwhal tusks in Canada and subsequently brought them into the United States illegally by concealing the narwhal tusks either under their truck or under a utility trailer and not declaring the wildlife to border officials as required.  Once in the United States, a Canadian co-defendant shipped the narwhal tusks to Zarauskas from Bangor, Maine.  Zarauskas knew that the co-defendants lived in Canada and had illegally imported the narwhal tusks into the United States.

The case was investigated by agents from the Law Enforcement Offices of NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Environment Canada.  The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Todd S. Mikolop and James B. Nelson of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section.