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U.S. Investigation Fuels Wildlife Trafficking Arrests in Brazil

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


May 20, 2004

Contact:
Sandra Cleva, 703-358-1949

 

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation of wildlife smuggling that sent a Florida businessman to prison for 40 months has helped Federal authorities in Brazil break up a criminal network illegally trafficking in tribal handicrafts made from protected species.

On May 14, 2004, the Brazilian Federal Police announced the arrests of 11 individuals linked to an international trafficking scheme and the seizure of 1,000 wildlife items. The arrests marked the culmination of an investigation that began after the Service notified the Brazilian government that tribal handicrafts decorated with feathers and other wildlife parts were being smuggled to the United States and possibly other countries from Brazil.

"Protecting wildlife is truly a global challenge," said Kevin Adams, chief of the Service's Office of Law Enforcement. "We value the partnership with the Brazilian Federal Police that has now resulted in successful investigations of wildlife crime in both the United States and Brazil."

Assistance from the Brazilian Federal Police helped Service investigators document the wildlife trafficking activities of Milan Hrabovsky, the owner of two Florida businesses specializing in the sale of tribal art. Hrabovsky used contacts in Brazil to smuggle headdresses, masks, and other items, which he then sold over the internet and at markets and craft fairs.

Hrabovsky was indicted in March 2003 on 17 felony counts related to the illegal importation and sale of thousands of dollars worth of wildlife items. Last July, he pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling, one count of obstructing justice, and one count of violating the Lacey Act -- a Federal wildlife law that prohibits international and interstate commerce in illegally acquired wildlife.

Charges were also brought against 10 of Hrabovsky's largest customers in the United States. These individuals paid nearly $40,000 in fines for purchasing illegally imported wildlife items.

Information obtained by the Service about Hrabovsky's business contacts in Brazil prompted authorities there to launch their own investigation. Brazilian law generally prohibits the commercial exploitation and export of that country's native animals.

Species involved in the two cases, which included red and green macaws, blue and gold macaws, scarlet macaws, and jaguars, are also safeguarded under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This international treaty, upheld by the United States, Brazil, and some 164 other countries, helps ensure sustainable trade in animal and plant resources through a system of permits.

Those arrested in Brazil were employed by that country's National Indian Foundation (Funai), a government agency tasked with defending the interests and rights of Indian peoples in Brazil. The handicraft trafficking scheme capitalized on laws that allow Indians in Brazil to hunt animals and sell products for their own sustenance to gain access to such materials as macaw feathers and monkey and jaguar teeth.

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 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 fishery resource 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 governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.



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