Five Indicted For Illegal Trafficking of Tigers, Leopards

JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri, November 14, 2001 (ENS) - Five people have been indicted for bringing endangered tigers and leopards into the United States so that they could be hunted and killed. The indictments by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis followed a lengthy undercover investigation by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Attorneys Office.

A federal court in Missouri unsealed the indictments on Thursday, charging five people in connection with the illegal trafficking of six endangered tigers and five leopards.

skins

Trafficking in endangered tiger and leopard skins is often thought to be a problem largely confined to Asian countries, such as these skins confiscated in India (Photos courtesy TRAFFIC-India)
Tigers and snow leopards are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The law also protects leopards, which are classified as either endangered or threatened depending on the location of their wild population.

Although federal regulations allow possession of captive bred tigers, the regulations stipulate that any activities involving their use must be help boost the reproduction or survival of the species. It is illegal to kill the animals for profit, or to sell their hides, parts or meats.

Conspiracy charges were filed against Todd and Vicki Lantz of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Freddy Wilmoth of Gentry, Arkansas, Stoney Elam of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma and Tim Rivers of Citra, Florida. The five were also charged with violations of the Lacey Act - a federal statute that makes it a crime to import wildlife or wildlife products taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any U.S. law or treaty.

The five are alleged to have illegally bought and sold federally endangered tigers and leopards between January and August 1998.

The indictments charge that in February 1998, Todd Lantz, owner of Lazy L Exotics in Cape Girardeau, purchased four tigers from Freddy Wilmoth in Gentry, Arkansas and transported them to the 5H Ranch in Cape Girardeau, with the knowledge the tigers were to be killed. After the tigers were killed and sold, Vicky Lantz prepared federal forms falsely stating that the transaction was a donation.

tiger

Tigers are sometimes killed for their coats and bones. The bones are used in Chinese and Japanese traditional medicine. (Photo courtesy Tiger Monitoring Project, Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal)
The indictments also charge that in June 1998, Stoney Elam sold two tigers and three leopards in violation of federal wildlife laws. Timothy Rivers, owner of Animals in Motion in Citra, is alleged to have illegally sold two leopards in August 1998.

If convicted, each defendant faces maximum penalties of five years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000.

The five charged in Missouri are the second phase of indictments to be brought in an ongoing investigation into a Midwestern ring of black market animal parts traders. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators, working with U.S. Attorney's Offices in Missouri, Illinois and Michigan, have uncovered a group of residents and business owners that have bought and killed exotic tigers, leopards, snow leopards, lions, mountain lions, cougars, mixed breed cats and black bears with the intention of selling their meat and skins.

In January, Woody Thompson Jr. of Three Rivers Michigan pled guilty in federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri to brokering the interstate sale of three tiger skins. Thompson, owner of the Willow Lake Sportsmen's Club in Three Rivers, was sentenced to serve six months home detention and two years probation; fined $2,000 and ordered to pay $28,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's "Save the Tigers Fund."