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Two Men Involved in a Leopard Skin Smuggling Operation Sentenced in Tallahassee Court


August 19, 2003

Tom MacKenzie, USFWS: (404) 679-7291
Andrew Aloise, (850) 769-0552 x243

Tallahassee, Florida: Two men arrested for conducting a Leopard skin smuggling operation were sentenced today in the U.S. District Court for North Florida. Roderick Richardson of Tallahassee and Josue Fekwa of Cameroon, Africa, were arrested after a package containing the leopard skins was intercepted by Tallahassee Police Department. On August 19, 2003, U.S. District court Judge Stephen P. Mickle sentenced Richardson to six months house arrest, and three years probation, and a $500 fine, for purchasing and receiving wildlife illegally smuggled into the United States in violation of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act. On August 18, 2003, Judge Mickle sentenced Fekwa to six months house arrest, three years probation, and a $750 fine after being convicted of selling the illegally smuggled leopard skins in interstate commerce in the course of a commercial activity.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents arrested Richardson on February 5, 2003, in Tallahassee, Florida and Fekwa was later arrested by Service agents in Washington D.C. Richardson pled guilty to a felony Lacey Act charge for receiving, acquiring, and purchasing wildlife knowing it had been unlawfully taken and imported into the United States. He also pled guilty to a misdemeanor Endangered Species Act violation involving the unlawful receipt of endangered species during the course of a commercial activity. Fekwa pled guilty to a misdemeanor Lacey Act violation and a misdemeanor Endangered Species Act violation.

Following the interception of the package containing the leopard skins, officers from the Tallahassee Police Department, working in conjunction with agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted a controlled delivery of the package to Richardson, who accepted it under his assumed name of Mr. Drigo. After identifying themselves as law enforcement officers, the officers and agents were granted permission to search Richardson's home. The search revealed a significant quantity of hashish, drug packaging material, and approximately $13,000 in cash. Richardson was prosecuted and convicted by the state for possession with intent to distribute hashish. Other information found during the search led law enforcement officers to Fekwa, who smuggled the leopard skins into the United States from Africa and eventually agreed to sell them to Richardson.

"This smuggling case illustrates how cooperation between federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other law enforcement agencies, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Tallahassee Police Department's Narcotics Interdiction Team, can uncover interstate and international criminal operations," said Andrew Aloise, a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Wildlife cases are often linked with other types of crime."

Leopards and other species are protected under the Endangered Species Act through an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or "CITES." The United States is one of 163 nations currently party to the CITES treaty. CITES treaty partners cooperatively protect fish, wildlife and plant species on a global scale from over-exploitation through international trade. Federal regulations adopted pursuant to the CITES treaty require that protected species may be legally imported only after certain permits are obtained, the importation into the U.S. occurs at designated ports of entry and the importation is declared to, and inspected by, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Customs.

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