On July 24, 2019, a federal grand jury unsealed an indictment for a Florida couple charged with conspiracy and trafficking of protected wildlife. The couple, Novita Indah and Larry Malugin, specifically received charges of smuggling wildlife from Indonesia to the United States and selling the wildlife from their home in Port Richey, Florida.
In 2011, the couple began selling protected wildlife on eBay to international buyers from their Indonesian home. They would falsely label packages to conceal their shipments’. For the next six years, Indah and Malgin continued this practice throughout their moves to Puerto Rico and, ultimately, to Florida in 2013. On January 12, 2017, the couple’s illicit business came to a halt when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) executed a search warrant and recovered 369 wildlife articles from their home. Among the seized articles were Javan spitting cobras, reticulated pythons, and a babirusa skill (a rare Indonesian pig known for its tusks).
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) protects the recovered wildlife. In a press release addressing the indictment, Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Bossert Clark said, “the Department of Justice will seek to prosecute individuals who flout this treaty and other important environmental laws.” As a result, Indah and Malugin face a maximum sentence of 20 years of incarceration on charges of smuggling and 5 years for violating the Lacey Act – which prohibits the trade of illegally procured wildlife.
CITES and the Lacey Act have been extremely useful when it comes to capturing and penalizing illegal wildlife traffickers. The two policies work together and illustrate how much more impactful legislation can be when countries concur on the need to protect endangered species and actually implement effectively the enforcement provisions.
First, CITES, an international treaty boasting 183 member states, signed in 1973 and protects over 35,000 species. Its overarching goal is to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of wildlife. It functions through a system of classification, which categorizes species in Appendices I to III. Appendix I prohibits all trade for the species listed as highly endangered. Appendix II permits trade, but only for those in exporting countries with a permit. These permits are issued only when there is scientific evidence that trade will not adversely affect the species. Lastly, Appendix III covers species that only need a certificate of origin to be traded. Elephants, for example, are protected under Appendix I and II due to geographically differentiated threats. Countries can allow permit-holders to trade the species, but only if the nation can demonstrate that ivory trade will not result in the species’ decline. If they cannot prove this, the country’s elephants will be listed under Appendix I and will not be allowed for trade.
The Lacey Act, adopted in 1900 as the first federal law protecting wildlife, is U.S. legislation that makes it unlawful to trade fish, wildlife, or plants that are sold in violation of U.S. law or another entity’s law. As a result, the policy covers all wildlife CITES’ protects. Additionally, the Act aims to restore game and birds in areas of the country where they have been depleted. However, while the main goal of CITES is to ensure trade does not impede wildlife survival, the Lacey Act is primarily utilized today to prevent the importation or spread of non-native species. The policy has faced some major violators. Most recently, in 2016, Lumber Liquidators was found guilty of violating the Act and sentenced to more than $13 million in fines – the largest penalty in the history of the legislation. For more of a discussion on this topic, please refer to the most recent issue of the IELR.
Although containing some distinct differences, CITES and the Lacey Act are united in their mission to abate illegal wildlife trade. Not only do their purposes align, but their unity also encompasses working together to strengthen enforcement of these trading issues. As portrayed in the indictment of Indah and Malugin, the couple will face a maximum sentence of 20 years for smuggling wildlife protected under CITES. However, they could receive an additional five years for violating the Lacey Act as they traded these animals within the U.S. The coupling of the two policies creates a larger disincentive and a stronger enforcement of illegal wildlife trading.
In the future, this will be important for the U.S. to keep in mind. Because demand for protected wildlife products spans the globe, suppliers will sell to whichever markets they can access. In addition, enforcement of international suppliers recognize coordination between international organizations, such as INTERPOL, and national law enforcement. Unfortunately, CITES itself does not have enforcement mechanisms of its own.
As the indictment of Indah and Malugin proves, international teamwork and cooperation is vital to strengthen enforcement and action on key global issues. Hopefully this is a lesson that current administrations can take note of and implement in the future. No matter if they do or do not, the IELR will be there to cover it.