LOS ANGELES (AP) — A dozen people were charged with violating wildlife laws by allegedly trying to sell a live piranha, other endangered or protected fish, birds and items such as a polar bear pelt and sea turtle boots, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
The charges were filed Thursday under “Operation Cyberwild,” a joint federal and state investigation that began in July, a U.S. attorney’s office statement said.
Undercover investigators posed as buyers and answered ads placed on Craigslist, eBay and other websites by sellers in Southern California and southern Nevada.
George Lovell, 49, of Las Vegas, was arrested on Friday after he allegedly used Craigslist to sell an undercover agent a pair of boots made from loggerhead sea turtle skin for $1,000.
There was no public phone listing for him in Las Vegas and it wasn’t immediately clear Friday whether he had obtained an attorney.
Special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and game wardens from the California Department of Fish and Game also bought a leopard skin coat for $8,000, a tiger rug for $10,000, a live Asian arowana fish for $2,500 and two live red-whiskered bulbul birds for $1,750, authorities said.
During the investigation, authorities also seized live endangered fish and protected migratory birds, an elephant foot, mounted birds and pelts from a leopard and a bear, federal prosecutors said.
“Our ecosystem is complex and precious. Unfortunately, this delicate system continues to face serious threats, including poaching, the introduction of non-native species and the illegal sale of endangered species,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement.
“The sale of endangered animals on the Internet has reached an alarming level, with as much as two-thirds of such sales taking place in the United States,” Birotte said. “These Internet sales of wildlife fuel poaching and make the killing of protected animals more profitable.”
The Operation Cyberwild task force was aided by volunteers from the Humane Society of United States.
Nine people face federal charges and three face California state charges. If convicted, they could face six months to a year in prison and fines of up to $100,000.
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