Illegal Trade of Walrus Ivory and Polar Bear Hides for Drugs and Firearms Charged
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Alaska Region announced today the
arrest of three individuals as a result of nine months of investigation
into the illegal commercialization of walrus ivory, polar bear hides, and other wildlife.
In the course of the investigation, approximately 1000 pounds of walrus
ivory, including more than 150 whole tusks, were purchased or seized; as
were two polar bear hides, hundreds of other wildlife parts, and more than two dozen firearms (including a silencer and fully automatic weapons). Also seized were marijuana plants, coca plants, and several other items suspected to have been stolen including fine artwork.
The investigation led to the execution of search warrants at locations in Glennallen, and Nenana on April 26, and arrests in Glennallen and
Anchorage. An indictment returned by the federal grand jury in Anchorage charges Jesse Joseph Leboeuf and Loretta Audrey Sternbach of Glennallen, and Richard Blake Weshenfelder of Anchorage with a conspiracy involving the commercialization of walrus ivory, polar bears and other marine mammal parts. The marine mammals were purchased from Savoonga, Alaska and transported to Glennallen. The wildlife was then illegally sold and transported to non-Alaska-Native buyers in Alaska, other states, and internationally. Further, the indictment alleges that Leboeuf and Sternbach paid for the wildlife with cash, drugs, firearms, and other items ranging from cigarettes to snow machines. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement personnel met with local leaders in Savoonga to keep them informed of the situation and to seek cooperative means of assuring that illegal commercialization of marine mammals does not occur in the future.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms, and Explosives conducted the investigation leading to these
arrests and search warrants. The United States Postal Inspection Service
and Alaska State Troopers also assisted with the investigation and the
arrests. The National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration assisted with the search warrants.
An indictment is only a charge and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is
presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial in which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The investigation is ongoing.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader andtrusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.