Office of Law Enforcement
Conserving the Nature of America in the Southwest Region
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Crane flies low over wetlands at Bosque del Apache. Credit: USFWS.

Southwest Region Office of Law Enforcement

Stories

 
Mexican wolf peers out through branches. Credit: USFWS.
Mexican wolf peers out through branches. Credit: USFWS.

The Southwest Region covers the States of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma and shares

Apache trout. Credit: Cinda Howard, NPS.
Apache trout. Credit: Cinda Howard, NPS.

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.

 

Law Enforcement News

Black-chinned hummingbird. Credit: USFWS.
Black-chinned hummingbird. Credit: USFWS.

Man from Cochiti Pueblo Sentenced to 37 Days in Prison for Violating Migratory Bird Treaty Act

ALBUQUERQUE – Wayne Martin, 47, of Cochiti Pueblo, N.M., was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to 37 days in prison for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by shooting and killing at least two dozen protected birds and selling them to an undercover federal agent.

Martin previously pleaded guilty to this offense on January 5, 2017.  According to court documents, he admitted to killing robins, hummingbirds, hawks, and other species.  He then failed to appear in court for his original sentencing hearing and stayed away for 21 months before agents arrested him.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated this case with assistance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Peña prosecuted the case.

Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Mexico

 

Token trophies from the illegal helicopter hunt. Photo credit: USFWS.
Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus Cylindraceus)...which is just one example of the species unlawfully collected.... are CITES II; however, the charges and sentencing stem from Smuggling and Lacey Act false labeling (no CITES/ESA charges). Credit: USFWS.

Meadview Man Sentenced to Prison for Drug Sales, Theft of Government Property, and International Smuggling of Federally- Protected Cacti

May 2019
William Starr Schwartz, 54, of Meadview, Ariz., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Steven P. Logan to 24 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release.  Schwartz was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $22,655 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a charitable and nonprofit corporation established to further the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants, and other natural resources.  Schwartz had previously pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, theft of government property, smuggling cacti from the United States, and Lacey Act false labeling charges. 

Read the news release.

 

 

Token trophies from the illegal helicopter hunt. Photo credit: USFWS.

Four Men Fined After Illegally Sport Hunting from Helicopter

April 2019
Four men have been sentenced after their involvement in illegal sport hunting from a helicopter in violation of the federal Airborne Hunting Act, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick. In September and October of 2018, Cody Morganthaler, 36, of Oklahoma, pleaded guilty along with Edelmiro Martinez, 33, Eduardo Lopez, 39, and Inocente Sanchez, 56, all of Laredo. Today, U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison sentenced Morganthaler, Martinez, and Lopez to the maximum allowed fine of $5,000, all of whom must also serve one year of probation.

Read the entire news release.

 


A Service special agent and an Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation captain excavated five tiger carcasses that were illegally taken by the defendant. Credit: USFWS.

"Joe Exotic" Convicted for Murder-For-Hire Plot & 17 Wildlife Crime Violations

Apri 2019
A jury found Joseph Maldonado, aka “Joe Exotic,” guilty after only a few hours of deliberation. Included in his several crimes was hiring a person to kill a woman in Florida and shooting, killing, and burying five tigers.

Read the DOJ press release, “Joe Exotic” Convicted Of Muder-For-Hire and Violating Both The Lacey And Endangered Species Act.

 

 


U.S. Fish adn Wildlife Offie of Law Enforcement Special Agent badge. Credit: USFWS.

Seven Charged for an International Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme

March 2019
A federal grand jury returned a 38-count indictment against four American and three Filipino defendants for violating federal laws including the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. They are accused of creating counterfeit Native American jewelry in the Philippines, smuggling the pieces into the U.S., and fraudulently selling them to U.S. customers as authentic Native American made jewelry.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) promotes the economic development of American Indians and Alaska Natives of federally recognized Tribes through the expansion of the Indian arts and crafts market. The USFWS OLE enforces the laws that regulate this trade.

Read the Department of Justice Press Release

 

 

 

Mexican gray wolf. Credit: USFWS.
Mexican gray wolf. Credit: USFWS.
Second Man Pleads Guilty in Arizona Wolf Killing Case

February 2019
Special Agent in Charge, Phillip Land, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement of the Southwest Region, announced today that Donald Justin Davis has pleaded guilty to an accessory after the fact to a violation of the Endangered Species Act, Class B misdemeanor for the unlawful take of a wild born, female Mexican gray wolf in December 2017.

Read the news release.

 


Eastern screech owls (gray and red morph.). Credit: USFWS.

Man Sentenced for Possessing Protected Eastern Screech-Owl

January 2019
Jorge Fernando Mercado was sentenced to 175 days in federal prison by U.S. Magistrate Judge John D. Love on January 10, 2019 for unlawfully possessing a protected eastern screech-owl, announced Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Phillip Land of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement of the Southwest Region.

Read the news release.

 

Additional pieces of fraudulent artwork seized by Service special agents. Credit: USFWS.
Additional pieces of fraudulent artwork seized by Service special agents. Credit: USFWS.

Five Men, Two Businesses Charged With Illegally Importing Native American-Style Goods and Selling Them as Authentic

February 2019

Pieces of fraudulent artwork seized by Service special agents. Credit: USFWS
Pieces of fraudulent artwork seized by Service special agents. Credit: USFWS

Federal law enforcement officials have announced charges against five men and two businesses for conspiracy, smuggling goods into the United States, and misrepresentation of Indian produced goods and products. The charges, which are contained in a five-count indictment, arise from a multi-year scheme to import Native American-style jewelry, arts, and crafts into the United States from the Philippines and sell these goods to customers based on false representations that the merchandise was made by Native Americans.

Read the news release.

 

 

Items seized from Presmer LLC. Credit: USFWS.
Items seized from Presmer LLC. Credit: USFWS.

Owner of Presmer, LLC Sentenced for Smuggling Python Skin Merchandise

January 2019
Annsley Popov, owner and manager of Presmer, LLC, was sentenced to three years of probation and a $30,000 fine by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal on January 10, 2019 for illegally importing items made from python skin and stingray skin. Presmer, LLC was levied an additional $120,000 fine, announced Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Phillip Land of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement of the Southwest Region.

Read the news release.

 

 

 

 


A whiskered screech owl sits on a tree limb while the camera flash illuminates his big orange eyes. Credit: Bill Radke, USFWS.
Fort Worth Man Guilty of Possessing Eastern Screech Owl in Eastern District of Texas

November 2018
A 46-year-old Ft. Worth man has pleaded guilty to federal wildlife violations. Jorge Fernando Mercado pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with unlawful possession of migratory birds. According to information presented in court, in Van Zandt County, Texas, Mercado, knowingly possessed, and then sold, a live Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio) to another individual for $200.00. The Eastern Screech-Owl is a “migratory bird” which is protected by federal statute and international conventions.

Read the press release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Mexico Dept of Game and Fish biologist W. Yearling, holds a razorback sucker. Credit: USFWS.
Mexican wolf. Credit: Jim Clark, USFWS.
Man Pleads Guilty to Wolf Killing in Arizona

November 2018
Assistant U.S. Attorney Camille Bibles and Special Agent in Charge Phillip Land of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement of the Southwest Region, announced that Jason William Kunkel pleaded guilty yesterday to an Endangered Species Act, Class B misdemeanor for the unlawful take of a Mexican wolf in December 2017.

Read the news release.

 


Tiger looks out over his shoulder. Credit: USFWS.
Grand Jury Adds Wildlife Charges to Murder-For-Hire Allegations Against “Joe Exotic”

November 2018
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joseph Allen Maldonado, Joseph Allen Schreibvogel, and “Joe Exotic,” 55, formerly of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, has been charged in a 21-count superseding indictment that includes the two previously charged murder-for-hire counts and also alleges nineteen wildlife crimes. These charges include the alleged killing of five tigers and the illegal sale of tiger cubs, in violation of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act, announced Robert J. Troester of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma. A federal grand jury returned indictments for the murder for hire charges and wildlife crimes.

Read the entire news release.

 

Wildlife Inspector Jeff Moore checks the identification of a vehicle at the Nogales, Arizona, border. He asks them if they have any wildlife products, such as exotic animal skin boots or a pet tortoise. Credit: Al Barrus/USFWS.
Wildlife Inspector Jeff Moore checks the identification of a vehicle at the Nogales, Arizona, border. He asks them if they have any wildlife products, such as exotic animal skin boots or a pet tortoise. Credit: Al Barrus/USFWS.

Enforcing Federal Wildlife Laws on the US-Mexico Border

October 2018
If there are snakes on a plane, it’s a federal wildlife inspector’s job to find them to ensure they enter or exit the country legally. At a seaport, wildlife inspectors need to catch anything fishy that might represent illegal trade in wildlife. On our southern border with Mexico, the wildlife inspector’s work takes on a different dynamic. Why did the desert tortoise cross the border? The reasons can vary, but if it’s being carried by a human, it’s a wildlife inspector’s job to know.

Read the entire story.
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Southwest Region Archived News Releases

Search additional archived news releases for the Southwest Region

Search Department of Justice archived Case Summaries.

 

A Forensic Lab Solves Crimes Against Animals
 
Bowie County Man Sentenced for Federal Violations
 

Law Enforcement Accomplishments Reports

Accomplishments Annual Report 2016
 
Accomplishments Annual Report 2015
 
Accomplishments Annual Report 2014
 
Last updated: July 29, 2019