March 2, 2012
Miami "Artist" Sentenced For Illegal Wildlife Trafficking
|Photo Caption: DeMolina used taxidermied wildlife carcasses and parts to create the "sculpture" shown here; he often combined parts from multiple species in a single work. Credit: DOJ|
A Miami artist who fashions taxidermied wildlife parts into "sculptures" for sale via galleries and the internet was sentenced in federal court to 20 months in prison and a $6,000 fine for illegal trafficking in threatened wildlife. These activities, which extended from late 2009 through February 2011, included importing numerous endangered and threatened species without the permits or declarations required by law, and some species where commercial transactions are not allowed under any permit. The shipments involved contacts in Bali, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Canada, and China, and the resulting artwork fetched prices up to $80,000.
According to the allegations contained in the information and a detailed factual statement in the court record, De Molina’s illegal wildlife trafficking activities extended from late 2009 through February 2011, and included numerous species and shipments, involving contacts in Bali, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Canada, and China. The joint factual statement describes the importation into the U.S. of the parts, skins, and remains of species, including a king cobras, a pangolin, hornbills, birds of paradise, and the skulls of babirusa and orangutans. Despite the interception of two shipments in late 2009 which were ultimately forfeited by De Molina and abandoned, he continued to solicit protected wildlife from his suppliers via the Internet, and to select specific animals from photographs to be provided to him. The parts or carcasses of the wildlife he selected would then be shipped to him without the permits or declarations required by law. After receipt, De Molina would incorporate various parts and segments of the wildlife into taxidermy pieces at a studio in downtown Miami. He offered these pieces through galleries and on the internet for prices ranging up to $80,000.
In order to protect certain species of wildlife against over-exploitation, the United States is a signatory to an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (hereinafter “CITES”). Appendix I of CITES includes species which are threatened with extinction and for which no trade is allowed for commercial purposes. Appendix II of CITES includes wildlife species which although not necessarily threatened with extinction now, may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is strictly regulated. Before importing a specimen of any animal protected under Appendix I of CITES from any foreign country, a valid foreign CITES export permit from the country of origin, or a CITES re-export certificate from a country of re-export, must be obtained as well as a valid “import permit” from the United States. Before importing a specimen of any animal protected under Appendix II of CITES from any foreign country, a valid foreign export permit or re-export certificate must be obtained. Federal law also prohibits the importation of fish or wildlife into the United States without proper declaration to both U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).