Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Illinois Corrections Officer Convicted in Federal Court of Killing Federally Protected Tigers

April 3, 2003

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A federal jury in Chicago returned a guilty verdict today against William R. Kapp of Tinley Park, Ill., for his role in the illegal trafficking and killing of federally protected tigers and leopards. Kapp was charged last May with 19 counts of violating the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act, federal wildlife protection laws. The jury found Kapp, 37, guilty of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act and 17 other counts of violating the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act. The jury found him not guilty of two counts.

Evidence presented during the eight day trial established Kapp as a central figure in a group of seven Chicago area men and one business that engaged in illegal trafficking of tigers, leopards and other exotic animals. Kapp brokered the sale of endangered tigers and leopards obtained from exotic animal brokers and animal park operators in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Florida. Evidence showed that Kapp participated in the killing of tigers and other animals while still confined in cages or trailers. Hides, mounts and meat from the animals were later sold for thousands of dollars to buyers in Illinois and Michigan..

Debra Bonamici and Gabriel Fuentes, assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Northern District of Illinois, presented the governments case against Kapp, who brokered the sale of 18 endangered tigers and leopards beginning in 1997. "Mr. Kapp wrongly believed these animals were worth more dead than alive," Bonamici said. "The jury agreed with us, and upheld the provisions of these important wildlife protection laws."

U.S. District Court Judge Blanche M. Manning, scheduled sentencing for July 18, 2003 at 11:30 a.m. Kapp faces a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

The Kapp guilty verdict is the result of Operation Snow Plow, a lengthy investigation into the trafficking of exotic animals by special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Beginning in 1997, Service special agents, working closely with U.S. Attorneys Offices in Illinois, Missouri and Michigan, uncovered a loosely organized group in the Midwest that bought and killed exotic tigers, leopards, snow leopards, lions, mountain lions, cougars, mixed breed cats and black bears with the intention of introducing meat and skins into the lucrative animal parts trade. A total of 16 individuals in six states were charged with violating various federal wildlife protection laws. Fifteen of the defendants pleaded guilty without a trial. Kapp was only defendant to argue his case before a jury.

"Todays verdict shows the results of the dedication and perseverance of our special agents who work very hard to protect wildlife," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Tim Santel who led the lengthy investigation. "It feels good to get this conviction."

Tigers are listed as "Endangered" under the federal Endangered Species Act. The law also protects leopards. Although federal regulations allow possession of captive-bred tigers, the regulations stipulate activities involving their use must be to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. It is unlawful to kill the animals for profit, or to sell their hides, parts or meats into interstate commerce.

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 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 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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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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