Alabama man charged with smuggling taxidermy mounts of birds and eggs that were protected species
Published 4:17 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023
An Alabama man was one of two people indicted Wednesday on charges of smuggling and money laundering in the importation of hundreds of taxidermy birds and thousands of egg over four years, federal officials said.
The Justice Department Wednesday announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Dr. John Waldrop, 74, of Cataula, Georgia, and Toney Jones, 53, of Eufala, Alabama, on conspiracy, smuggling, Endangered Species Act (ESA) and money laundering charges. An arraignment in federal court is scheduled for Oct. 16.
The indictment alleges that Waldrop and Jones illegally imported hundreds of taxidermy bird mounts and thousands of eggs into the United States between Jan. 1, 2016, and Dec. 10, 2020; they did not import any live birds. U.S. law and regulations require that importers declare wildlife to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Customs authorities. Permits are also required for wildlife protected by the ESA, Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“The Endangered Species Act is a vital law in the fight against international trafficking of protected wildlife,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “Rare and endangered birds have important roles in their habitats, and we are committed to preventing and deterring their unlawful removal.”
“It is in our national and global interest to enforce federal laws and treaties that protect endangered birds from the harm of alleged profiteers like the defendants, and the Eastern District of New York will do so,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York.
“This investigation highlights the immense pressure illegal trade places on imperiled bird species around the world, and the Service’s commitment to upholding laws and treaties that prevent the exploitation of foreign and domestic species,” said Assistant Director Edward Grace of the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement. “We hope this indictment sends a clear message that our investigators will work tirelessly to seek justice for poached wildlife.”
According to the indictment, Waldrop and Jones used online sales sites such as eBay and Etsy to buy birds and eggs from around the world, including Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. Waldrop and Jones imported and collected myriad species of protected birds, such as canary, dipper, duck, eagle, falcon, grouse, gull, hawk, heron, hoopoe, kestrel, kinglet, lapwing, murre, owl, parrot, pochard, rail, teal, snipe, spoonbill, vulture and woodpecker.
In addition to the conspiracy, the indictment charges Waldrop and Jones with importing three packages containing birds and eggs in 2020 through John F. Kennedy International Airport in violation of smuggling and ESA laws. The packages contained a Levant sparrowhawk, a grasshopper buzzard-hawk, two gull eggs, two murre eggs and one unidentified bird egg. The final count of the indictment alleges that Waldrop and Jones conspired to commit money laundering by sending funds out of the United States to finance bird smuggling. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of 779 bird mounts and 2,594 eggs alleged to have been illegally imported into the United States.
The maximum sentence for the smuggling and money laundering charges is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the economic gain or loss. The conspiracy charge carries a five-year maximum sentence, and the ESA is punishable by six months in prison.
The CITES treaty regulates trade in endangered or threatened species through permit requirements. The United States and 183 other countries are signatories to the CITES treaty, which regulates trade in endangered or threatened species through permit requirements. The MBTA implements treaties with Canada, Japan, Mexico and Russia to protect many native U.S. bird species that also have habitats in those countries.
The USFWS’s Office of Law Enforcement in Valley Stream, New York, conducted the investigation as part of Operation Final Flight. The operation focused on the trafficking of protected birds into the United States. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources assisted with the investigation.
The government is represented by Senior Trial Attorney Ryan Connors of ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Karamigios for the Eastern District of New York.