Representatives of an Oregon wildlife park and a Weedsport, New York, corporation were in U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon, last week in connection with a national scheme to sell rare endangered ocelots, which are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.
On September 10, 2007, Great Cats of the World, of Cave Junction, Oregon, was placed on probation for a year by U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman and ordered to make a $10,000 community service payment to the Endangered Species Justice Fund. The wildlife park, acting through President Craig Wagner, pleaded guilty in June to shipping an endangered ocelot for a commercial purpose in interstate commerce. The organization purchased an ocelot from the Temple of Isis in Geyersville, California, shipped it to Minnesota and falsified a federal form by claiming the ocelot had been donated when in fact the organization paid $3,000 for the cat.
On September, 13, 2007, Finger Lakes International, Inc., a Weedsport, New York, corporation, pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act by illegally purchasing and transporting two ocelots in the course of commercial activities. The ocelots were purchased from Deborah Walding, of Beaverton, Oregon, who was convicted of illegal ocelot trafficking in 2005, and transported by Glenn Donnelly to New York. Donnelly is the chief executive officer of Finger Lakes International, Inc. Judge Mossman set sentencing for Finger Lakes International for December 3, 2007.
These cases, investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as ?Operation Cat Tale,? stemmed from a larger trafficking ring that centered on the illegal activities of the Isis Society for Inspirational Studies, also known as the Temple of Isis. On January 4, 2007, the Society pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Endangered Species Act by offering to sell ocelots, and agreeing with others to sell them, in interstate commerce. Four ocelots were seized as a result of this investigation, one of which was found dead in a freezer. The Society was found to have sold or offered to sell six ocelots throughout the United States. Following the Society?s guilty plea, Judge Mosman ordered the organization to pay a $60,000 community service payment to the Endangered Species Justice Fund and serve two years federal probation. The Society agreed with ocelot purchasers to mischaracterize the sale of ocelots as "donations" and to mischaracterize the payments for these ocelots as "contributions" to charitable organizations affiliated with the Society, including the Temple of Isis and the Isis Oasis Sanctuary. The purchasers falsified federal forms to maintain the "donation" cover story.
A total of six guilty pleas have been entered in connection with the ocelot trafficking scheme.
In August 2006, Amelia Rasmussen, of Nixon, Texas, pleaded guilty to purchasing two ocelots from the Temple of Isis and falsifying a federal form by claiming that the ocelots had been "donated" to her when in fact she paid thousands of dollars for the ocelots. Rasmussen paid a community service payment of $15,000 and served one year of federal probation.
That same month, Jacke Sinott, a resident of Silverton, Oregon, entered a pre-trial diversion agreement in which she paid a $10,000 fine for purchasing an ocelot from the Temple of Isis and falsifying a federal form by claiming that the ocelot had been "donated" to her when in fact she paid thousands of dollars for it.
In June 2005, Deborah Walding, of Beaverton, Oregon, pleaded guilty to illegally offering to sell an endangered ocelot. As part of her plea agreement Walding was not charged with offenses stemming from the sale and the offer of sale of three other ocelots because she agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney?s Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in further investigations of illegal trafficking in endangered species. This led to uncovering a broader ocelot trafficking ring, as described above. Walding was later sentenced to one month in a federal prison, nine months house detention and twelve months probation and was ordered to make a $25,000 community service payment to World Wildlife Fund North American Endangered Species Trafficking Program.
The ocelot is an endangered species and as few as 80 to 100 ocelots are known to remain in the wild in the United States, most of them on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in south Texas. The mid-sized, nocturnal cats are endangered throughout their range in Texas and Mexico and south through Central and South America, mostly as a result of habitat destruction and fragmentation, road mortality, loss of genetic diversity and illegal trafficking in pelts. They are protected by national and international laws.
Ocelots can grow to 4 feet long, with a 1.5 foot-long tail, and weigh up to 75 pounds. They range in color from ash yellow to brownish-yellow, have a series of longitudinal black stripes running from the neck and over the back and flanks and varying patterns of elliptical-shaped spots over the body. A white spot called an ocellus is found on the back of the ears. The ocelot?s primary habitat is thorn scrub and dense rainforest.
Community service payments ordered by Oregon?s federal court as part of wildlife-crime sentences go into an Endangered Species Justice Fund, created by the Oregon Zoo and the U.S. Attorney?s Office in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Money in the fund is used to help endangered and threatened species. The goal of the Fund is to decrease the environmental harm caused by wildlife crimes prosecuted in Oregon. Grants fund programs that protect and support endangered and threatened species, as well as programs that work to combat illegal trafficking and sale of endangered and threatened species. Since crimes prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney?s Office involve animals from all over the world, the fund will support programs that help Northwest species as well as efforts abroad.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 548 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.