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6 SoCal Residents Charged With Illegally Selling Protected Wildlife In Undercover Sting

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Federally protected California Scrub Jay (credit: USFWS)

Federally protected California Scrub Jay (credit: USFWS)

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Six accused wildlife traffickers in the Southland are facing federal charges for allegedly selling protected species online last summer.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) made the announcement Thursday following a coordinated undercover law enforcement investigation dubbed Operation Wild Web, which resulted in 154 “buy/busts” across the U.S.

Five cases were filed in Los Angeles Thursday morning, charging defendants aged 29 to 59 with a range of environmental law violations, according to Thom Mrozek, spokesperson for the United States Attorney’s Office Central District of California.

Mrozek said Hanna Karim, 44, and his wife, Margarita Licomitros, 36, of Huntington Beach, are both charged with offering an endangered species for sale after allegedly making $8,000 from a Sumatran Tiger skin on Craigslist.

The couple face up to one year in federal prison if convicted.

Forty-two-year-old Rene De La Peza, of Hacienda Heights, is charged with offering an endangered species for sale after allegedly selling a jaguar skin for $15,000 on Craigslist.

She could also face up to one year in federal prison if convicted.

Fifty-nine-year-old Encino man Michael Roy McIntire is accused of selling three migratory bird mounts in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

McIntire could face up to six months in prison if convicted.

Hesperia resident Rodrigo Macedo, 29, is accused of selling two Western Scrub Jays in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of six months in federal prison.

Lewis Keister, 42, of Hancock Park, is charged with a felony offense of illegally trafficking wildlife for allegedly selling a pair of seal fur moccasins for $750 last August.

The complaint affidavit also alleges Keister sold three Native American dolls, one said to be made of whale bone, and three bags, one made of seal fur, to an undercover agent last December.

If convicted of violating the Lacey Act, Keister would face a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison.

The USFWS investigation involved officers from 16 states, three federal agencies and taskforces in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, according to the agency’s statement.

Wildlife products seized by Service agents during Operation Wild Web also included jaguar pelts, sea turtle shells and sea turtle skin boots, whale teeth, elephant ivory, migratory bird mounts, walrus ivory and other items. The intercepted transactions involved more than $60,000-worth of wildlife contraband, according to the agency.

“Our message is clear and simple:  The internet is not an open marketplace for protected species,” Edward Grace, the Service’s Deputy Assistant Director for Law Enforcement, said.

Grace also credited the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) with being “essential” to the undercover operation’s success.

The Los Angeles and San Bernardino County-based defendants are scheduled for arraignment August 8 in U.S. District Court.

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