Narwhal ivory smuggler extradited to US for money laundering trial

A 58-year-old retired police officer from Canada has already paid a fine for smuggling narwhal ivory to the US, but now faces trial for charges of money laundering.

REUTERS/Harvard Medical School/Glenn Williams/Handout
A Narwhal swims through ice during spring migration. The narwhal's mysterious spiral tusk works as a giant sensor to help it test water qualities and to smooch other narwhals, a U.S. researcher said. The whale's eight-foot (2.4-metre) long tusk has long mystified naturalists and hunters, and the explanation may be equally intriguing, Harvard School of Dental Medicine researcher Dr. Martin Nweeia said.
Narwhals swim underwater in the Northern Territories of the Canadian Arctic.

A former member of Canada’s federal police force was extradited to the United States on March 11 and is being held in custody until his trial in May on charges of money laundering from a $2-million operation to smuggle ivory from narwhal between the two countries.

The narwhal, a whale that lives in the coastal waters and rivers of the Arctic, is known as the “unicorn of the sea,” so named for the long, twisted ivory tooth that the males grow through through their upper lips. Scientists don’t know definitively, but most think that the tooth is used to attract females – similar to the way that peacocks use their feathers – or to fight off competing suitors.

Though elephants and rhinos are usually associated with illegal poaching for their ivory and horns, respectively, the narwhals are similarly hunted and killed for their ivory tooth, which can grow nearly 9 feet long, according to National Geographic, and is prized as a decorative piece or as carving material.

Narwhal tusks, which sell for as much as $30,000, are sold legally in some parts of the world, including Canada, as The New York Times pointed out.  But in the US, their trade is mostly prohibited by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

According to the US Department of Justice, 58-year-old Gregory R. Logan, who retired from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2003, was charged with smuggling at least 250 narwhal tusks into the United States over the last decade, selling them to collectors, and then laundering the proceeds by having the money transferred out of the country to fund the smuggling operation.

Mr. Logan pleaded guilty to the smuggling charges in 2013 and was fined nearly $400,000 in Canada, according to the justice department. This was the biggest fine ever under the country’s wildlife trade law.

But now, Logan has been extradited to the US and will remain in custody here until May 3, when he is scheduled to face trial for charges related to the money laundering in the US District Court for the District of Maine in Bangor. Two American men were also involved in the conspiracy, says the justice department: Andrew J. Zarauskas, a New Jersey resident, was sentenced to 33 months in prison and Jay G. Conrad of Lakeland, Tenn. pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

“Modern wildlife crime investigations often track money as much as they track animals,” said Ed Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in an announcement of Logan’s extradition. “This case shows the breadth of the illegal wildlife trade, normally associated with elephant ivory and rhino horn. Even species of the deep polar waters are not safe until we extinguish the market for protected animals and with it, the livelihood of criminal profiteers who benefit from their exploitation.”

Government and non-government organizations around the world have been working to stem the illegal flow of wildlife products around the world. In October, a 66-year-old Chinese woman, known as the ‘Queen of Ivory,’ was arrested in Tanzania for allegedly leading a crime ring that smuggled at least 706 elephant tusks worth about $2.5 million.

Yang Feng Glan, who has lived in Africa for decades, is thought to have used her well-known restaurant in Tanzania’s capital city of Dar es Salaam and her post as secretary-general of the country’s China-Africa Business Council to organize a massive underground ivory trade.

According to a November 2014 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nonprofit based in London, Ms. Yang’s alleged activities have helped the East African nation, a hotbed of ivory trade, to lose up to 70 percent of its elephants in the last decade to illegal poaching, as The Christian Science Monitor has reported.

The ivory queen is facing a maximum sentence of 20 to 30 years in prison.

In the case of Logan, money laundering is a felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000, says the justice department.

“By pursuing the criminal financial transactions that flow from trafficking, we are making a less attractive and more costly enterprise,” said John C. Cruden, assistant attorney general for the justice department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

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