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Two Individuals Indicted in Miami for Smuggling Protected Peruvian Orchids


March 11, 2004

Tom MacKenzie, FWS, 404-679-7291

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A federal grand jury in Miami, Florida, has returned an indictment charging Manuel G. Arias Silva, a Peruvian national, and George W. Norris, a resident of Spring, Texas, with conspiring to smuggle into the United States protected orchid specimens, including specimens of the genus Phragmipedium, commonly known as Tropical lady’s slipper orchids. All species of orchid are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

According to the indictment, Arias sold several shipments of orchids to Norris between January of 1999 and October of 2003. Arias would allegedly obtain a CITES permit for the shipment from Peruvian authorities that authorized the export of certain numbers of artificially-propagated specimens of particular species of orchids. Arias, at the instruction of Norris, would then allegedly include in the shipment specimens of species not included on the CITES permit. To conceal the allegedly illegal activity, he would falsely label the protected species as a species listed on the permit. Arias would allegedly provide to Norris a code or “key” that would provide Norris a means for deciphering the false labels and identifying the true species of the orchids. In some instances Arias allegedly shipped orchids that were wild collected rather than artificially propagated. One shipment in February of 2003 allegedly included some 1,145 specimens, of which approximately 490 were of species not authorized for export by the accompanying CITES permit.

In addition, Arias is charged with two counts and Norris with one count of making a false statement to federal authorities in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a). Norris faces an additional two counts of smuggling related to alleged sales and domestic shipments of orchids that he knew had been imported contrary to law. If convicted, the maximum penalty for each of the counts of the indictment is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is a treaty to which the United States and Peru, along with over 160 other nations, are parties. The United States implements CITES through the Endangered Species Act. Certain species of orchids are listed on Appendix I of CITES, including all species of the genus Phragmipedium.

The indictment alleges that the men used invalid permits for the shipments and falsely labeled many of the plants shipped to cover up the lack of a valid permit. The shipments all were allegedly for commercial purposes.

The investigation of this case was lead by Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with assistance from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection Service and the Department of Agriculture. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida as well as the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section of the Department of Justice.

An indictment is a formal accusation and is not proof of guilt. Defendants are presumed innocent until and unless they are found guilty.

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