Thom Mrozek, United States Attorney's Office, Central District of California: (213) 894-6947
Scott Flaherty, USFWS (916) 978-6156
Lisa Nichols, USFWS Special Agent (619) 557-5063
A federal grand jury indicted a La Crescenta man July 31, in a case involving the alleged trafficking of juvenile leopard sharks, the sale of which is prohibited in California unless the animal is more than three feet in length.
Eduardo Fernandez Carvajal, 57, was named in a 19-count indictment that accuses him of conspiracy and 18 counts of wildlife trafficking.
The leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata) is a small shark that is indigenous to the Pacific Ocean and is found in coastal waters from Mexico to Oregon. Leopard sharks give birth to live young, which are generally eight inches to one foot in length at birth. Because they are slow growing - taking seven to 10 years to reach maturity - and have interesting leopard-like markings, juvenile leopard sharks are coveted by collectors. Juvenile leopard sharks can sell for as much as $450. In response to the rapidly declining population of leopard sharks, California began protecting leopard sharks in January 1994 by prohibiting the sale of leopard sharks that are less than 36 inches in length.
The indictment alleges that Carvajal collected juvenile leopard sharks from the waters along the coast of Southern California and sold them to customers located throughout the United States. Knowing that it was illegal to ship the leopard sharks from California, and in order to avoid detection, Carvajal arranged to have the leopard sharks driven to Las Vegas, Nevada or Phoenix. From there, the leopard sharks were shipped by air to customers located throughout the United States.
Previously, the shipper who transported the sharks for Carvajal from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and Phoenix, and three of Carvajal's customers each agreed to pay $5,000 fines to the United States for their illegal conduct.
Carvajal faces a maximum statutory sentence of five years on each count.
Carvajal is scheduled to appear for arraignment in United States District Court in Los Angeles on August 18. [Note: An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in court.]
Erin Dean, the Resident Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, stated: "This case demonstrates the continued commitment of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to investigating wildlife trafficking crimes and working with the United States Attorney's Office in ensuring that wildlife traffickers are prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
This case was a joint investigation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - Office of Law Enforcement, and the California Department of Fish and Game.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov/cno.