Law Enforcement
Southwest Region

Tule Elk at San Luis NWR

Southwest Region Office of Law Enforcement

   
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The Southwest Region covers the States of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma and shares over 1,650 miles of border with Mexico. The Region contains diverse fish and wildlife resources, including over 250 species of fish, wildlife, and plants that are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. It encompasses habitats that range from lowland deserts and seemingly endless plains to gulf coast beaches and towering mountain peaks.

Wildlife law enforcement efforts are coordinated with State game and fish agencies and with Federal counterparts; new partnerships include increased liaison with the U.S. Marshals Service in the Southwest. Special agents and wildlife inspectors in the Region provide law enforcement support to more than 40 National Wildlife Refuges, 27 National Parks, 20 National Forests, over 30 million square miles of other Federal and State land areas, over 100 distinct Native American tribal areas, and 24 Customs ports of entry.

Challenges in the Region range from protecting endangered Mexican wolves to foiling interstate trafficking of wildlife ranging from freshwater fish to big game species. Enforcement work includes promoting compliance under Federal wildlife laws by oil and gas producers and other industries whose activities affect protected birds; inspecting wildlife imports and exports at two designated ports (Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston) and four border crossings (Nogales, Arizona, and Brownsville, El Paso, and Laredo in Texas); and partnering with Service biologists to address issues affecting protected species and their habitat.

Case study of Southwest Law Enforcement working with industry

 

Law Enforcement News

Rhino

Rhino. Photo credit: USFWS.

Irish National Sentenced to 12 Months in Prison for Trafficking in Endangered Rhinoceros Horns

January 2016
Department of Justice - Patrick Sheridan, an Irish national, was sentenced in federal court in Waco, Texas, today to 12 months in prison for conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act in relation to illegal rhinoceros horn trafficking, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice  and U.S. Attorney Richard L. Durbin Jr. for the Western District of Texas and Director Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Whooping Crane

Whooping crane. Photo credit: USFWS.

Jefferson County Man Arrested for Killing Whooping Cranes

January 2016
BEAUMONT, Texas – U.S. Attorney John M. Bales announced that an 18-year-old Beaumont, Texas man has been arrested for federal violations in the Eastern District of Texas. Trey Joseph Frederick was arrested today pursuant to a criminal complaint issued by the U.S. District Court charging him with violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Frederick appeared in federal court this afternoon on the charges.

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red tailed hawk

Red tailed hawk in flight. Photo credit: C. Koppie, USWFS.

Rice Farmer Convicted and Fined for Poisoning Birds

January 2015
Southwest Region Special Agent in Charge Nicholas E. Chavez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in cooperation with U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced that the operator of a Danbury rice farm has entered a guilty plea to illegally killing 65 brown-headed cowbirds and four red-tailed hawks.

Nelson Bulanek, 54, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jason B. Libby today. Bulanek was ordered to pay a $10,000 community service payment to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Operation Game Thief Program and must serve two years of probation.

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Defendants Reach Plea Deal in Helicopter Harassment Case

December 2015
(FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.) Two individuals accused of harassing wildlife with a helicopter have signed a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Chad Logan Smith, manager of a ranch in northern Arizona and Christopher Morris Atkinson, a contracted helicopter pilot working for the ranch, agreed to deferred sentences for their role in the August, 2014 incident.

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Native American cross

Photo caption: Authentic Native-American jewelry. Credit: Adam Conway Caesar, Pawnee Tribe, Necklace, 2004.

Three New Mexicans Charged with Fraudulently Selling Filipino-Made Jewelry as Native American-Made
Sixteen Search Warrants Executed in New Mexico and California as Part of Continuing Investigation into Alleged Violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act

October 2015 
ALBUQUERQUE – Three New Mexicans have been charged with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) by conspiring to import and fraudulently sell Filipino-made jewelry as Native American-made.  The indictment charging the three defendants is the result of an ongoing federal investigation led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into an international scheme to violate the IACA. The investigation included a law enforcement operation yesterday during which 16 search warrants were executed in New Mexico and California, and related investigative activity took place in the Philippines.

The IACA prohibits the offer or display for sale, or the sale of any good in a manner that falsely suggests that it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian and Indian tribe. It covers all Indian and Indian-style traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced after 1935, and broadly applies to the marketing of arts and crafts by any person in the United States. 

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great horned owl

The Great horned owl that was sold to an undercover agent on May 2, 2012. Photo credit: USAO.

Operation Freebird Nets Four Subjects
Four Sentenced in San Antonio for the Unlawfully Selling of Migratory Birds

September 2015
Sixty–year-old Tomas G. Perez of Devine, Texas was sentenced to three years’ probation by Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra at the San Antonio U.S. District Court after pleading guilty to felony charges for the illegal selling of migratory birds of prey.  Perez also was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,000 to a San Antonio based raptor wildlife rehabilitation facility.  Perez was the last of four individuals who were investigated for the trafficking of federally protected migratory birds. 

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false identifcation card

Odessa Man Sentenced for Selling Fake Indian Art

September 2015
Department of Justice - An Odessa, Mo., man who falsely claimed to be a Cherokee Indian was sentenced in federal court for utilizing a fraudulent tribal identification card to sell his Indian artwork at fairs and on-line. Terry Lee Whetstone, 63, of Odessa, was sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah W. Hays to three years of probation after also pleading guilty today to the charge of misrepresentation of Indian-produced goods and products.

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red snapper in a cooler

Red snapper in a cooler. Credit: Office of Law Enforcement, USFWS.

Operation in the Red

August 2015
A multi-agency task force was organized as part of an investigation called OPERATION IN THE RED.   The purpose was to identify, apprehend, and prosecute individuals and businesses involved in the unlawful catch, possession, sale and purchase of red snapper along the Texas coast.  

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rhino horn dagger

Rhino Horn Dagger seized by a Houston Wildlife Inspector. Credit: Dustin Hunt, USFWS.

Inspectors Seize Thousands of Illegal Animal Imports
Channel 2 Investigates U.S. Fish and Wildlife Seizures

August 2015
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Inspectors work at International Airports and Ports of Entry in the United States.  The Inspectors facilitate the expeditious movement of legal wildlife but also intercept shipments containing illegal or injurious wildlife into and outside the United States.  Channel 2 News from Houston conducted a story concerning the illegal wildlife seizures made by the Inspectors at Bush International Airport and by ships arriving with cargo from International countries.  Combating Wildlife Trafficking and disrupting or dismantling international and domestic criminal enterprises is a high priority for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement.   

Watch the video from Channel 2 News Houston.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ivory figurines are slated for the Crish in New York
The 2015 ivory crush items. Photo credit: USFWS.

United States Destroys Confiscated Elephant Ivory in Times Square

June 2015
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today joined Service Director Dan Ashe and other leaders to destroy more than one ton of confiscated elephant ivory in New York’s Times Square, sending a clear message that the United States will not tolerate wildlife crimes that threaten to wipe out the African elephant and a host of other species around the globe. The crush was conducted in partnership with the State of New York, the Wildlife Conservation Society and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman.
News Release »
Video »
Learn More »
Director's Blog »

 

 

 

 

Great horned owl captured in box
The Great horned owl that was sold to an undercover agent on May 2, 2012. photo credit: USAO.

Four Plead Guilty in San Antonio to Unlawfully Selling Migratory Birds

May 2015
In San Antonio, four individuals await sentencing after pleading guilty to federal charges related to illegally selling migratory birds announced Acting United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr. and Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Chavez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Southwest Region. Appearing before Chief United States District Court Judge Fred Biery this morning, 50-year-old Jorge Rocha of Natalia, TX, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully offering to sell and selling migratory birds.

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ivory
Carved ivory pieces. Photo credit: USFWS.

Texas Antiques Appraiser Sentenced to 25 Months in Prison for Rhino and Ivory Smuggling Conspiracy

May 2015
Ning Qiu, 43, of Frisco, Texas, an appraiser of Asian art, was sentenced today in Beaumont, Texas, to 25 months in prison and three years of supervised release for conspiring to smuggle rhinoceros horns and objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory, from the United States to China. Qiu was also directed to pay a $150,000 fine, which was directed to the Lacey Act Reward Fund. The sentence was announced by Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas and the Directorfor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

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Office of Law Enforcement Accomplishments

April 2015
In the Southwest Region, wildlife law enforcement efforts are coordinated with State game and fish agencies and with Federal counterparts. Special agents and wildlife inspectors in the Region provide law enforcement support to more than 40 National Wildlife Refuges, 27 National Parks, 20 National Forests, over 30 million square miles of other Federal and State lands, over 100 distinct Native American tribal areas, and 24 Customs ports of entry. Challenges in the Region range from protecting endangered Mexican wolves to foiling interstate trafficking of wildlife ranging from freshwater fish to big game species. Enforcement work includes promoting compliance under Federal wildlife laws by oil and gas producers and other industries whose activities affect protected birds; inspecting wildlife imports and exports at two designated ports (Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston) and four border crossings (Nogales, Arizona, and Brownsville, El Paso, and Laredo in Texas); and partnering with Service biologists to address issues affecting protected species and their habitat.

Read more about cases handled in the Southwest Region in the annual report (pages 12-15)

 

hummingbird
Hummingbirds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.Credit: Bill Buchanan, USFWS.

Texas Man Sentenced for Trafficking in Hummingbird Charms

April 2015
Texas – A 53-year-old Dallas, Texas man was sentenced to four years of supervised probation and ordered to pay $5,000 in fines and restitution for trafficking in dried humming bird carcasses referred to as “chuparosas” on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. The individual admitted to selling hummingbirds without a valid permit or authorization, which is a felony under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Noble.

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Additional news coverage
Learn more about Hummingbirds

 

black rhino
Photo of a ​Black Rhino​ in ​Mkhuze, South Africa. Photo credit: Karl Stromayer/USFWS.​

Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Falsifying Wildlife Document

March 2015
A resident of Austin, Texas pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act’s false labeling provision by knowingly selling horns from a black rhinoceros to non-Texas residents and falsifying the bill of sale to conceal the fact that the actual purchasers were not residents of Texas. This case was part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

Read the Department of Justice’s news release

Learn more about Operation Crash

 

Service, Partners Fight Wildlife Crime

March 03, 2015
Poaching and wildlife trafficking threaten some of the world’s best known and most beloved species, including elephants and rhinos, as well as lesser-known species like the pangolin. On this World Wildlife Day, the Service joins partners around the world to show that we are serious about wildlife crime. We’re strengthening law enforcement efforts, coordinating domestically and internationally to combat wildlife trafficking, and in 2014 alone, the Service invested more than $15 million in wildlife security support worldwide. We hope you will join us, this World Wildlife Day and every day, to end the illegal wildlife trade.

Director's Blog: Using Cutting Edge Science to Fight Poaching and Illegal Wildlife Trade

Learn More on Wildlife Trafficking

 

El paso Trade Fiar staff
Representing the Service's Office of Law Enforcement at this event were Evidence Custodian Matt Romero, Permit Specialist Maggie Martinez and Supervisory Wildlife Inspector Loida Mata.​ Credit: USFWS.

El Paso Trade Fair

February 2015
On Thursday February 5, 2015, The El Paso Supervisory Wildlife Inspector, Region 2 Import/Export Permit Specialist and the El Paso Evidence Custodian attended the first ever trade fair in El Paso, Texas. The trade fair was organized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and held for all import/export brokers that do business in El Paso, Texas. It was an all-day event that provided brokers with necessary information that is needed to conduct business in El Paso. Departments that attended the trade fair included: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), U. S. Customs and Border Protection, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, U. S. Food and Drug Administration, U. S. Department of Agriculture, U. S. Department of Transportation, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and U. S. Department of Homeland Security. As one of the cross-cutting objectives for the OLE, this event provided outreach and education to increase compliance with wildlife laws.

The mission of the OLE is to protect wildlife resources. Through the effective enforcement of Federal Laws, we contribute to FWS efforts to recover endangered species, conserve migratory birds, preserve wildlife habitat, safeguard fisheries, combat invasive, and promote international wildlife conservation.

 

flying hawk
A red-tailed hawk soars over U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands. Photo credit: USFWS.

Operation Silent Wilderness

This week in Phoenix, Arizona, a tribal member of the Navajo Nation from Tuba City, Arizona, became the last defendant to be sentenced following a nationwide investigation – Operation Silent Wilderness – by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife into the illegal killing and commercialization of protected eagles and other migratory birds. 

News Release
Summary of Operation Silent Wilderness
Case Photos

 

 

Presidential Taskforce Releases Implementation Plan for Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking

February 2015
Recognizing that wildlife trafficking is an urgent conservation and national security threat, the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Justice and State have released the implementation plan for the U.S. National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking. Says U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell: "We have reached a pivotal moment where we must take effective action or risk seeing iconic species go extinct in the wild. With this national strategy, we are taking the steps needed to both shut down illegal trade, including raising awareness and support through our trade agreements, while helping source countries crack down on poaching." 

News Release »»
Director's Blog: A Coordinated Federal Approach to Combating Wildlife Trafficking »»
Learn More »»
Implementation Plan »»

 

Last updated: January 15, 2016