Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Hawaii company punished for illegal smuggling operation
Joint NOAA/USFWS investigation yields significant results

June 28, 2016

Contact(s):

Contact: 

Brent Lawrence, 503-231-6211 or brent_lawrence@fws.gov

Ally Rogers, 301-427-8255 or allyson.rogers@noaa.gov


Illegal, ivory fish hook that was confiscated as a part of a law enforcement operation. Photo credit: USFWS

Illegal, ivory fish hook that was confiscated as a part of a law enforcement operation. Credit: USFWS

HONOLULU, Hawaii — In 2015 five defendants and one Hawaii-based company were charged for their involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle and sell illegally acquired ivory, bone and coral carvings and jewelry made from whale, walrus, black coral, and other wildlife. Today, the company, Hawaiian Accessories, Inc. and its president/CEO, Curtis Wilmington, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to smuggle wildlife into the United States. The Court sentenced Curtis Wilmington to a term of six months imprisonment, three years of supervised release and a fine of $40,000 and sentenced the company to five years of probation and fined the company $50,000. The defendant also surrendered approximately $100,000 worth of ivory and black coral products.

“To have such blatant disregard for the law relating to marine mammals and protected species is unacceptable,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “NOAA Fisheries has zero tolerance for wildlife trafficking crimes. This case is a tremendous example of our partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Justice, without which we would not have successfully closed this case and brought these criminals to justice.”

The two-year joint investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Office of Law Enforcement and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement uncovered the conspiracy ring in 2014. An undercover operation exposed the intricate scheme to purchase ivory and bone products from other States, bring them into Hawaii, smuggle them to the Philippines to be carved and smuggle them back to Hawaii to be sold to unsuspecting tourists and residents as genuine Hawaiian-made products. The initial indictment listed 21 charges including violations of the Lacey Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

These charges carry up to 20 years in prison per person, per count of illegally importing merchandise, up to 10 years in prison for illegally exporting ivory, and up to five years in prison on each of the other charges, including the conspiracy. Each charge also carries a maximum fine of $250,000 for the individuals and $500,000 for the corporation. 

According to court documents, from October 2014 to February 2015, falsely manifested shipments containing smuggled whale bone or walrus ivory carvings from the Philippines to the Hawaii-based business were intercepted. Before sending the shipments, Sergio Biscocho, owner and president of the Philippines-based export company, separately sent packing lists reflecting the true contents to the other defendants charged in this case. 

From November 2014 to April 2015, undercover agents purchased whale bone and walrus ivory carvings from Hawaiian Accessories. From June 2013 to May 2015, Curtis Wilmington knowingly ordered and received illegal shipments of black coral carvings from Mexico. Additionally, he purchased raw contemporary sperm whale teeth and walrus ivory from undercover agents. The business also sold what the agencies determined to be “probiscidean” ivory (i.e. either elephant or mammoth) which could not easily be distinguished. Elephant ivory is highly regulated but mammoth ivory is generally unregulated. In some instances, the business falsely marketed and sold illegal walrus ivory as being “fossil” and “mammoth.”

“We commend the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice and all other agencies that played a role in aiding this joint investigation and prosecution,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Chief Edward Grace. “We will continue to work with our partners to fully investigate and bring to justice individuals who choose to commercialize and profit from protected wildlife species.”

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/pacific, or connect with us through any of these social media channels at facebook.com/USFWSPacific,  flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/,  tumblr.com/blog/usfwspacific or twitter.com/USFWSPacific.


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.

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