FIGHTING THE `TWO-LEGGED SNAKE'
Reptiles and Amphibian Hobbyists Latest FWS Target
The Politically Incorrect Parrot
On Wings March 1998
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service held hearings in New York and Los Angeles to address its proposed regulations on the packing and shipping standards for reptiles and amphibians. These proposed regulations, though touted by Fish and Wildlife as merely the incorporation and clarification of current International Air Transport Association (IATA) standards, in actuality impose stringent and unnecessary new restrictions on the shipping of certain species - restrictions that would not only substantially increase the costs of shipping, but that in some instances would actually increase mortality rates of animals being shipped.
Contrary to USFWS assertions, many of the new proposals in no way mirror IATA regulations. Costs involved with the new regulations would essentially shut down the reptile trade, industry spokesmen say. Pet Industry Joint Action Council (PIJAC) attended the two meetings, and has called on the Service to reopen dialogue on the matter, though the comment period on the issue closed on February 17.
In addition to, or perhaps in conjunction with, increased federal regulation of the herpetology/herpetoculture hobby, it seems that state governments have increasingly entered the regulatory arena. At this time, fully twenty states have reptile related legislation pending, none of it with an eye to increasing the popularity of the hobby. Most, in fact, would increasingly ban the sale, possession or collection of native species bans that have little or no basis in good science.
On the other hand, it is ironic that those who would ban the collection of non-threatened reptiles would aid and abet in the practice of 'rattlesnake roundups,' in which rattlesnakes are arguably rather cruelly collected, used in various 'sporting events,' then slaughtered for food or their skins. In the capture process, many other fauna may be injured or displaced.
In response to what reptile and amphibian lovers perceive as an attack of their rights to participate in their hobby, the National Reptile & Amphibian Council has been formed. A brief announcement to that effect has been posted on the internet:
"The rattle snake was the favorite animal emblem of the Americans even before the revolution. In 1754 Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette printed the picture of a snake as a commentary on the Albany Congress. To remind the delegates of the danger of disunity, the serpent was cut into pieces. Each segment is marked with the name of a colony, and the motto "Join or Die." By 1774 the segments of the snake had grown together, and the motto had been changed to read; "United Now Alive and Free Firm on this Basis Liberty Shall Stand and Thus Supported Ever Bless Our Land Till Time Becomes Eternity."
Many authors felt the rattle snake was a good example of America's virtues. They argued that it is unique to America; individually its rattles produce no sound, but united they can be heard by all; and while it does not attack unless provoked, it is deadly to step on one. It is time for that rattle to be heard again.
Herpetoculture and Herpetology are under attack in the United States. Hobbyists are going to prison, and spending massive amounts of time and money in court battles while super-collectors suck our ponds and lakes dry of turtles for the Asian food market. Raids on hobbyists look like assaults on crack houses. Inane state laws are being utilized to entrap hobbyists into committing federal offenses. The battles are being fought in the press with little regard to the actual outcome of the trials. Shipping regulations are being proposed that will literally shut this hobby down.
It's got to stop. We've got to rattle. It's time to stand up and do something.
Today I am proposing a new organization, the National Reptile & Amphibian Advisory Council. When the NHA went defunct we lost our voice. We can't wait around for PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) to do something. They don't even have a web page. NRAAC's charter will be to be a watchdog over federal and state agencies involved in the Reptile and Amphibian hobby/industry. In this role it will act as an advisory group to individual state member groups to provide them legal, financial, and media support. This organization is brand new and we will be looking for people interested in starting state chapters, and working at a statewide level.
Please stop by this site often and for the hobby's sake, pass on this site's URL. Whether you are a hobbyist, academic, breeder, or twelve year old kid, we need your support, financially and spiritually. Check back as membership information will soon be forthcoming.
National Reptile & Amphibian Advisory Council
Like the avicultural community, which found itself under attack as the perpetrator and facilitator of some huge, illegal trade in endangered and threatened species, reptile and amphibian fanciers found themselves to be politically incorrect in the early nineties. In response to an alleged request by unknown 'trade officials' alarmed at the purported ten billion dollar a year trade in the world's wildlife, the Interior Department reportedly began to take a 'more aggressive' approach to wildlife poaching and smuggling.
The Park Service became the operator of one infamous sting against the reptile community in 1993, when it launched its "Operation Rockcut "at Big Bend National Park in west Texas. Illegal snake collecting there, said the wildlife agents, was at the bottom of a multi-million dollar business.
At Rockcut's conclusion in the summer of 1994, Park Service spokesmen told eager (and gullible) reporters that while they believed their operation had touched just the tip of the iceberg in the illegal trade in reptiles, their suspicions that a huge uncontrolled trade in reptiles was flourishing, were thoroughly justified.
But the infinitesimal conviction rate does not take into account the human costs of prosecution. Charges of investigational ineptitude were the rule, and as in other such wildlife 'stings,' charges of entrapment were rife.
During the 'sting,' pet store owners and hobbyists alike were visited by 'reptile distributors' who were in reality undercover Park Service Agents, and who offered them supposedly legal livestock at incredibly cheap prices. If they were turned down, the agents persisted, offering even better bargains. Then, months later, came the raids.
As happened in the ill-fated Operation Renegade seizures, the livestock seized in these 'raids' did not always fare well in Service custody. But the Park Service, which had grossly exaggerated the extent of the poaching problem, the market for reptiles, and the extent of the illegal trade in reptiles, emerged unscathed, and unmoved by the hurt they had inflicted not only on the snakes that perished in their custody, but by the inestimable harm they had inflicted without cause on the legitimate snake collectors they had falsely accused. Individual lives and businesses were destroyed.
Meanwhile, the Park Service persists in portraying the operation as a success despite its singular lack of convictions. Now, as a result of Rockcut, they even conduct special classes to detect illegal snake poachers. Though one experienced ranger says he often sees people who fit the profile of a snake hunter, he has yet to catch anyone with an illegal reptile leaving Big Bend. The ranger would also be hard pressed to find a remnant of confidence and respect in his agency within the herpetological community these days.
But this is not the first sting perpetrated on the herp community. As far back as 1979, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was busy setting up one of its classic stings in the Atlanta Wildlife Exchange (AWE) in Doraville, Georgia. This operation was the brainchild of FWS agent Bill Zimmerman of the FWS, and of agent Rick Leach, the Division of Law Enforcement agent who also was behind the infamous Operation Renegade, which targeted American aviculture.
Leach and his cronies set about to make a name for the AWE in the American herp community. In addition to soliciting herpers to buy or procure for the domestic market in 'native species,' AWE managed somehow to acquire reptiles from Australia, from unknown and questionable sources there, at best.
The AWE paid its sources for both legal and illegal stock at inflated prices, thereby actively encouraging an illegal market in these animals. In addition, they sold their stock at lower than market prices, thus competing unfairly with legitimate dealers, who suffered when they lost business that otherwise might have been theirs.
Sometimes, reportedly, the AWE would refuse to ship to or receive from customers unless certain illegal specimens were included in the transaction, thus entrapping those who might not otherwise be inclined to so bend the rules. Unsolicited animals were also sent through the mails to targeted individuals. July 18, 1981, raids on snake keepers took place in fourteen separate states, in up to forty-five different locations. Some who were raided had had no dealings whatsoever with the AWE. Others had been sent unsolicited reptiles, which they had promptly sent back, as, in the course of their sting, AWE had managed to earn the reputation for shipping injured or diseased stock.
As in Operations Renegade, Falcon and Rockcut, livestock seized in Operation Snakescam did not do well in Service custody. And as in Operation Renegade, et al, a number of animals were illegally or improperly seized, and many died needlessly.
As in Operation Renegade. and for that matter Operations Falcon and Rockcut, search warrants executed by Leach and other agents were routinely overreached, with agents frequently making off with business records, research documents, receipts, slides, permits, bank books, and the like. Much of this material which would have been valuable for the defense, if one was raised, was not returned until after legal proceedings had terminated, if ever.
Even after successful court defenses, many seized animals were returned dead. What never could be returned, however, were the reputations of those forced, for economic reasons, to enter guilty pleas to 'crimes' of which they were not guilty. This phenomenon is becoming more common, as legal defenses become out of reach of the ordinary person, but even then FWS was taking advantage of unlimited federal resources to ensure the 'convictions' that would garner favorable publicity in the media for their agency: job justification, some call it.
This is a simple game to play, and Leach and his fellow FWS agents have become masters at it.
Its rules are simple: FWS threatens a victim with a long term of imprisonment and huge fines for assorted federal felonies if he doesn't agree to plead to a charge or two in return for a reduced fine or term in 'club fed.' Those who fight them run the risk of financial ruin. Even if they prevail in court after expending hundreds of thousands of dollars in their defense, the agents then merely file more charges against their target, as happened to a Florida dealer who had his case overturned for prosecutorial misconduct, only to find new charges filed against him almost immediately.
He gave up, entered a plea, served a few months. He has since left the country.
Another classic example of this federal power is the case Billy Dale, of the White House Travel Office, who was hounded by prosecutors into agreeing to enter a guilty plea and serving four months in federal prison for alleged irregularities in the travel office funds. Only when prosecutors insisted the man admit to comingling government funds with his own did Dale balk, and insist on trial. After legal expenditures of over $450,000, a jury took twenty minutes to acquit. Congressional hearings resulted from the travesty perpetrated on Mr. Dale, and after much wrangling, and even more posturing, the Congress agreed to reimburse him for his legal fees.
For the little pet store owner, or hobby snake or bird breeder, legal expenses of this magnitude are out of the question. Nor would they likely be reimbursed by an enraged Congress. Those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it, it has been said, and correctly so. Back in the seventies, Leach and his pals were busy abusing their power. Even then allegations of tape tamperings were surfacing, perjury charges were made, and the news media were exploited shamelessly.
Despite the fact that convictions were trifling at best in Operation Snakescam, we still were treated to a similarly botched Operation Falcon, and then Operation Renegade, all with many of the same agents participating, and all using the same shoddy and shameful tactics. In all these cases, an illegal trade in these animals was created by an agency that then went on to attempt to entrap individuals and businesses in an unjustifiable and unconscionable effort to perpetuate their own government employment.
In some more minor operations, fossil hunters have suffered at the hands of the Service, as have taxidermists, museum artists, and even artists who dare to pick up a molted feather or two. Now, I am told, in the case of the embattled herp enthusiasts, state laws are being used to induce violations of the Lacey Act. Snake collectors are being targeted as they pursue their hobby of legal collection and propagation. On collecting trips, they may be visited at their motels by local wildlife agents and their federal FWS counterparts, and asked for permission to search. A few months later, they may get a visit at their homes.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is able to remember the past. They have been able to hone their 'sting' skills down to an art. And they have no reason to curtail their shameful activities. They run minimal risk of their illegal and unethical tactics ever being unmasked, as most cases they bring will never go to trial. They can tell the press whatever they want, and it will be repeated verbatim. The mainstream press still naively parrots their propaganda in the major newspapers, despite the availability of such tools as the Freedom of Information Act to check on the veracity of Service claims that the wildlife trade is intimately associated with the drug trade and other such ridiculous myths.
In some cases, as we have previously discussed, the Service even enters into written agreements with the press, to ensure that they will even have control over the substance of what is being reported. Congress will continue to turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of this agency run amok, despite the fact that hearings were held on Operation Falcon, hearings that found the Service to have operated illegally in foreign countries, to have entrapped individuals, to have overreached their bounds in searching property, to have themselves operated without the proper wildlife permits, and other assorted crimes and misdemeanors.
Congress has forgotten what has happened in the past. We must not. The herpetological community can expect their problems to accelerate in the future if they fail to speak out, and speak out now. Likewise, the falconry community, the avicultural community, the fossil collectors, even tropical fish enthusiasts are at significant risk.
We must reach out and start to communicate with all these communities at risk. Then it will be time for us all to communicate with the Congress, and show them the consequences of their failure to remember the past. They are ultimately to blame for our problems today, and they must of necessity be a part of its resolution tomorrow.
If the snake crowd now finds itself in trouble, we in aviculture probably won't be far behind, you can bet on it. In all honesty, I don't like snakes, but I can assure you I'd much rather deal with one of the no-legged variety these herp people own than I would one of the two-legged kind they keep sending out of Washington to entrap us.
Keep the faith. We've already been thrown out of the Garden. Regards, Judy
FROM THE PROSECUTOR WHO BROUGHT YOU PEG BARGON AND THE DREAM CATCHER....
FWS Presents `Feathergate'
On Wings February 1998
Federal overreaching is nothing new. Overreaching by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not only altogether too common, it is becoming the rule. On Wings readers will recall the shameful case of Peg Bargon, the downstate Monticello, Illinois housewife who ran afoul of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when, in May of 1994, she presented First Lady Hillary Clinton with a dreamcatcher she had decorated with the feathers of several species of native birds she had picked up locally.
Uh, oh. Possession of migratory bird feathers is a federal crime, and a strict liability one at that, meaning that an individual is guilty of a crime regardless of whether he knew he was committing a crime or not.
Enter the fed: A sharp eyed FWS agent spotted the story in the local newspaper, and the wily wildlife cops set up a complicated sting, aimed at capturing said dastardly wildlife felon. After two agents posing as potential purchasers of Native American lore visited Bargon, the agents sprang their trap. Armed with a search warrant, six armed feds rushed the poor housewife. The agents then moved in for a search of her home and place of work.
Bargon was arrested, and charged with a crime punishable by up to a year in prison, and a fine of up to $100,000. The woman was offered a plea bargain, however, and officials promised to let her off lightly if only she would plead guilty to several federal offenses. Facing such federal overkill, and threats of long incarceration and huge fines, the hapless Bargon opted to plead. An innocent act turned a wildlife loving suburban housewife, an employee of a small animal veterinary clinic, into a wildlife criminal overnight.
Bargon's attorney called it 'encroaching federal intrusiveness.' Bargon's Congressman,Thomas Ewing, said that the issue has set the Fish and Wildlife Service in Central Illinois back fifty years. Representative Jim Saxton, who sat on the Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans subcommittee at the time of the incident, commented on the events during a meeting held in Washington in 1995 to look at problems with the Wild Bird Conservation Act:
"I would say, Mr. Ewing, that members of this subcommittee, as well as the full committee, who are responsible for monitoring, and from time to time reauthorizing, laws that have to do with saving endangered species or other types of laws which are so important to the environmental quality of our country and you would hear stories like this from time to time and it always makes our job that much more difficult. We have some new folks on this panel, particularly on the full committee, who have heard stories like this that have been carried out by environmental agencies of one kind or another or the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and it really makes our job very difficult because then we have to justify the intent of the law in the face of overreaching on the part of agencies. And this example is probably the most fallacious example, that I have ever heard, of overreaching. And I wish that environmental protection agencies and the Division of Fish and Wildlife and other state, Federal and local agencies would put themselves in a position of being more responsible all the time, because when something like this happens it just makes it extremely difficult for all of us who want to do a responsible job."
On Wings has reported before on victims of Fish and Wildlife Service's overzealous prosecutions, where basically innocent individuals have been forced to plead guilty to contrived `crimes' in an effort to stave off long prison sentences or huge fines, or the alternative: bankrupting legal fees which come with no guarantee of relief ahead. That is what happened here, though FWS press releases would have you believe a major crime had been committed, and through their great effort, had been solved for the American people.
The American people are not one iota safer when an agency is allowed to remain unchecked in its excesses. One would think that this instance would be sufficiently embarrassing to the agency that they would be more careful not to violate the rights of citizens in the future, in their zeal to protect wildlife. But it is not about wildlife, it seems, as no wildlife were ever at risk from Ms. Bargon. Nor was there any wildlife at risk from the Service's latest manufactured wildlife criminal. Let us read about this latest felon, from the FWS's own press release of January 30, 1998:
"ILLINOIS MAN SENTENCED FOR ILLEGALLY SELLING PROTECTED BIRDS
Joseph Taylor of Mahomet, Illinois, was sentenced today in the U.S. District Court in Urbana, Illinois, for illegally selling mounts of migratory birds in violation of Federal wildlife laws. Taylor will pay a $3,000 fine plus court costs, with three years' probation for his activities. In addition, Taylor's business, Taylor's Studios, Inc. must pay a $3,000 fine and court costs; the business is also under three years' probation. The sentence was issued by Judge Harold Baker.
Both Taylor and his museum fabrication business are prohibited from acquiring, possession, selling, brokering, or otherwise dealing with migratory birds, their parts, nests, or eggs during probation. In addition, Taylor must allow U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents to inspect his records to ensure compliance with probation. An investigation by special agents of the U.S. fish and Wildlife Service uncovered Taylor's illegal activities. Taylor, through his business, was involved in the purchase of taxidermy mounts, which were then sold to various public, scientific, and educational institutions in the Midwest. The mounts were used in dioramas and other museum and interpretive displays.
Wildlife laws such as the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibit sale of migratory birds, as well as interstate transport off wildlife obtained in violation of state or Federal laws. Probably the most important protection these laws provide is protecting wildlife such as migratory game birds from commercialization for profit,' said Service special agent Timothy Santel. 'By enforcing wildlife laws, we are trying to ensure that we will all have the opportunity to enjoy these resources in the future.'
Santel and Special agent Dan Burleson found that Taylor, acting under the guise of providing a taxidermy service, was purchasing migratory bird mounts and then reselling them to customers. These agents discovered that Taylor's state taxidermy license had already been revoked for similar wildlife violations. Taylor pled guilty in October 1997 to violation of the Lacey Act, a Federal wildlife law that prohibits sale, possession, and transport of illegally obtained wildlife. Taylor transported six bird mounts, including songbirds, a great-horned owl, red-tailed hawk, and waterfowl, from Illinois to Michigan. The mounts were purchased and resold by Taylor in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects waterfowl, songbirds, hawks, owls, and many other game and non-game bird species. In addition, Taylor's business pled guilty to unlawfully selling migratory bird mounts, including waterfowl killed by hunters, to a museum in Michigan.
Maximum penalties for misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act can result in a fine of up to $100,000 and/or one year in prison. Misdemeanor violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act carry maximum penalties of $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations, up to six months in prison, and possible loss of hunting privileges. Enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the act was passed in 1916 to stop the decline of bird populations which were being decimated by market hunters seeking meat, as well as feathers for the fashion industry. Amended most recently in 1989, the act regulates sport hunting of migratory game birds and provides full protection for many other species of migratory birds."
What were the real circumstances of this guilty plea? Were they as the press release implied, or is there more to the story, perhaps, than the USFWS is willing to tell us? On Wings spoke with Joe Taylor about his experiences, and not surprisingly, the situation was not quite as advertised.
Joe Taylor and his partner run a small business, Taylor Studios, Inc., which makes museum exhibits. Apparently, the Fish and Wildlife Service became convinced that there existed a multi¬million dollar ring selling taxidermy in the museum industry, and thus decided to target Taylor and several similar business in southern Illinois. Taylor and his partner do not do any taxidermy at their shop. They work with a fully competent, licensed taxidermist, whose work is found in many prominent museums in this country.
Like Bargon, Taylor became the target of a Fish and Wildlife Service sting operation. In this case, agents called Taylor repeatedly, looking to purchase mounts to put into a 'museum about birds' they were allegedly starting. Taylor explained the situation, that the mounts were not to be sold, and referred them to his taxidermist.
But that didn't stop the fed, who came to his offices, in force, and attempted a search. After pushing their way in, they were confronted by Taylor's partner, who attempted to videotape the 'raid.' They were made to stop the taping, though they were told they could use audiotape, which they did, until they had to leave the room. At that time, the FWS turned the machine off.
The agents, in their zeal to collar another major felon, however, had forgotten one teeny little thing. They had failed to get a search warrant, and when Taylor and his partner realized this, the agents were asked to leave. A local judge later refused to give the FWS agents a search warrant, though he did agree to subpoena Taylor to court.
Despite their rocky start, agents continued in their attempts to prosecute the businessman. The prosecutor in the case, it seems, and as in the Bargon case, he insisted on a guilty plea to charges regardless of their merit. Carefully gauging the costs of hiring an attorney to try the case against the costs of settling for a nominal punishment, the fed offered a rather small fine, which Taylor, for reasons of economics, elected to pay. Taylor stresses that he did not plead 'guilty' to a crime in court. He is adamant in insisting that he was 'pleading guilty to their interpretation of buying and selling wildlife.' In this case the Service's interpretation was ephemeral at best.
The business charged a ten per cent surcharge on contractor fees when installing an exhibit. The government argued that the mounts were included in that ten per cent surcharge, and, since wildlife can't be bought or sold under the Lacey Act, Taylor was thus guilty of 'selling' wildlife. All the birds he transported to Michigan were properly donated by various agencies, documented as such, and were properly tagged.
As in Bargon's case, there is no question that the Fish and Wildlife Service overreached its authority. And they knowingly attempted to bring down a business that was operating within the law. Indeed, they deliberately included in their press release the implication that Taylor had been in trouble before.
The facts: He lost a taxidermy license in his college days merely because he had not renewed it in time for an inspection. The authors of the press release didn't bother to explain that, nor was the whole issue even relevant to this case. But they needed a conviction, any conviction, to justify their existence. And they needed to demonize another wildlife criminal.
Until this agency is forced to be accountable for its actions, it is unlikely to change. The experience of the Bargon case, and the Congressional disapproval it gener¬ated, seems to be lost on the Service personnel, both line and supervisory. The Service is not being held accountable for its actions in this case, either, and that in itself is more of a crime than Taylor ever committed.
The losers? Besides Taylor, it is the American people who must deal with an agency out of control, one utterly without the moral rectitude or leadership to fulfill its mission to protect and conserve American wildlife. Also losers are the visitors to the three museums in the region from which the Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated birds. Whatever for? But it isn't really about birds, at all, is it?
Domestic Terrorism— Not Just Another Meaningless Threat...
Many of our newer readers have never have heard of Operation Falcon, an ill-fated sting operation run by many of the same Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Law Enforcement personnel who gave us Operation Renegade. Operation Falcon arose in response to the USFWS's alleged belief there was a big international ring, trading in endangered raptors; Operation Renegade arose in response to the Service's alleged concern with a huge international ring of parrot smugglers; Operation Four Corners Feather Scam arose from the Service's alleged belief that there existed a huge international trade in raptor feathers.
The Berger case in Montana was another operation aimed at demonstrating a deliberate attempt by 'evil' ranchers to kill raptors; the Service's dishonest attempt to demonize its attempted victim in a surreptitiously-recorded raid (illegally accompanied by a disguised troupe of CNN employees) has resulted in a ten million dollar lawsuit being filed against them.
Wild and unverifiable allegations of out of control international trades in one or another wildlife species have made the headlines in all the papers; Service press releases brag of their latest daring arrests. Yet huge international trades in anything— from fossils to pheasants — are the Service's stock in trade, their raison d'être, whether they exist or not. If they do not exist they must be created, and have all too often been created, if only to perpetuate themselves and their power.
It is significant that even as Operation Falcon approached completion, the Service was setting up a new sting near Yellowstone National Park, where agents posed as hunters and collectors soliciting the killing of golden eagles, which ultimately ended up in a government run taxidermy operation. This pattern of enforcement activity has continued through the years, with no letup. So indeed, there is nothing new, which makes it all the more inexcusable when both wildlife and people are routinely and unjustifiably sacrificed to the ambitions of an agency too long out of control.
It has been speculated that Operation Falcon was begun in response to a request of Senator John Chafee (R-RI), then Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Pollution, who put pressure on then Chief of the USFWS Division of Law Enforcement Clark Bavin to stop illegal importation of endangered wildlife. The Senator reportedly even suggested the agency use undercover agents in their efforts. Bavin then began the zealous campaign that continues to this day, and Chafee's influence continues as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. And Joe Taylor and many others whose names we will never know are sacrificed to a bureaucracy that has assumed the role of judge, jury and executioner, the ultimate in domestic terrorism.
For readers unfamiliar with Operation Falcon, I will take this opportunity to briefly summarize the activities and issues surrounding it. Whoever it was that said that those of us who cannot remember our history are condemned to repeat it was right on, here. For as we as aviculturists have failed to learn our lessons, the Congress has dropped the ball on keeping the Division of Law Enforcement adequately supervised. Even in light of recent occurrences with the Department of Law Enforcement, we are not yet getting together with all affected parties concerned with the U.S wildlife trade, to see that Congressional feet are held to the fire. The North American Falconers Association took action in 1984 to publicize the misdeeds of the Fish and Wildlife Service with regard to Operation Falcon.
The organization methodically detailed the Service's deliberate inducement of violations of the law by falconers, and the agency's deliberate provision of misinformation to news media in its press releases and public statements. All quotations that follow, unless otherwise noted, are from NAFA's Report on Operation Falcon, from Hawk Chalk, August, 1984.
The North American Falconers Association (NAFA) responded to the misdeeds of the Service by publishing the facts: During the Service's June 29 coordinated dawn raid, some twenty- eight American falconers were arrested; some one hundred birds were seized; at least forty warranted searches were conducted; and an 'unknown but substantial number' of searches were conducted under the guise of inspections mandated under falconry permitting provisions.
The next day, falconers heard deliberately misleading and exaggerated press releases, put out by the USFWS and the Secretary of the Interior and the Attorney General of the United States: The United States had broken up a multi-million dollar international trade in hawks and falcons, arresting some thirty individuals for interna-tional black marketing of birds of prey.
Not so, countered NAFA. "The fact sheet showed that illegal import and export of raptors was not only on a very small scale but that such as there was in the United States appeared to have been instigated and supported by the USFWS." (Emphasis added.)
Much of the information the government proposed to use against the falconers was obtained through the cooperation of John Jeffrey McPartlin, a falconer who had been compromised by the Service, and who, in 1981 began to work for them in a paid capacity, running a sting set up to deal with the Service's belief that there existed a large international trade in raptors. By their own admission, FWS agents and McPartlin himself were involved in and initiated a number of illegal activities during this period. NAFA was able to obtain affidavits for search warrants in a number of cases, and found them to contain transcripts of conversations that contain hearsay, boasting and conjecture.
Reports of Investigation (ROIs) often contained the same type of questionable material, and worse: "The ROIs and the diaries also provide indications of a significant misconduct and bad judgment on the part of the persons operating the sting." ... "To make the sting work, it was necessary to stop enforcing the law for the three and one half years it lasted. We would like to have a sting that lasts for a long time declared illegal since NAFA wants the falconry regulations and wildlife laws enforced continuously and fairly, not sporadically."
When court cases came up, a number of falconers pled guilty. They did so, reportedly, in response to offers 'so advantageous to the defendant that (they) could not be refused,' all felony charges being reduced to misdemeanors and fines minimized to an affordable level.
"It is becoming clear that the major government weapon in the plea bargaining process is the use of felony charges in the indictments. Because of the severe impact a felony conviction has on a man's record (for example, it may mean the loss of a license to practice medicine). There is a strong pressure regardless of guilt to accept the certainty of a misdemeanor rather than to risk being convicted of a felony." The victims of overzealous law enforcement thus were encouraged to cut and run. It is incredibly expensive to prepare for and go to trial. But their reputations were irrevocably tarnished.
The general public had no way to learn of the wrongdoings of the Service, nor of the reasons behind the 'expedient' guilty pleas. And what of the perpetrators of this overzealous prosecution? Many remain with the Service today.
Many of the NAFA members suffered violations of their civil rights during the USFWS raids and subsequent actions, and, as in Operation Renegade, there were cases of birds being mistreated and dying in Service custody. USFWS declined to comment on these allegations of wrongdoing, citing as always that a criminal investigation was in progress. Certain of their abuses are detailed in the NAFA report. A number of these complaints have a certain currency today.
Threats: A NAFA member was told, "You are an enemy of Law Enforcement." A few years ago, an animal importer was told by an FWS agent, John Decker, "I will do everything I can to put you out of business." He has done so.
Due process violations: A falconer using crippled birds for educational purposed was forced to arbitrarily turn back the birds to a rehab center, without adequate reason or the chance to defend himself. In Renegade, an aviculturist was visited by Service personnel, who thought they had a warrant to seize three birds, took four. Though two were subsequently returned following expensive court action, two did not survive the experience. NAFA had reports that two falconers were informed that they could get seized birds returned only if they admitted to minor violations.
In Operation Renegade, the Silva collection of birds was `abandoned' to the government under questionable circumstances; FWS indicated they were incurably ill and their condition warranted immediate euthanasia. Instead, they were distributed around the country, and veterinary records have not been turned over as requested.
Questionable searches: NAFA reports that a number of routine inspections were expanded into complete searches, without warrant. A number of instances in Operation Renegade and subsequent operations include instances of unsigned warrants being presented at search, and in the case of the attempted seizure of several cats in the Chicago area, of agents returning with a warrant hours after a search had begun.
Certain wildlife related businesses have had their records seized, and only returned on a piecemeal basis, if at all. Allegations have been made that records of wildlife purchases have been taken by FWS agents in searches, only to have the owners find themselves unable to defend themselves from prosecution when records of their purchases are not returned to them. I have copies in this office of three unsigned warrants, presented by FWS agents commencing a search.
Inappropriate behaviors on the part of FWS agents during searches are not uncommon. From the NAFA report: A Nevada falconer reported to Hawk Chalk that when four USFWS agents and one state agent searched his house on June 29, they took all of his telephone calls over an eight hour period and advised callers that he was not home even though he was there. He also reported that after he was read his rights, the agent who did so asked him to sign what the agent described as a certificate that he had been read his rights, but which turned out on examination to be a waiver of his rights. He says he refused to sign it. Both actions are inappropriate and possibly illegal.
"My name is C.B. Hoffmann. I have worked in the pet and animal field all my life. My wife and I started Animal Kingdom Pet Shop in 1945. Since that time, I have owned most types of animals, from owls to elephants. I have become a recognized source for animal information to magazines, daily newspapers, television and radio shows. I was a member of Chicago's Animal Control Advisory Committee, and I worked with the State of Illinois Agriculture Department to set up rules for pet shops. I have been a member of many animal associations.
I have retired, and the Animal Kingdom is now run by my son Robert. I was called to the shop on April 26, 1994 because of an incident created by members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. My son William was called to the Animal Kingdom to help some agents confiscate two black leopards in the Animal Kingdom. When he got there, he asked an agent to see his warrant. The agent grabbed my son, put cuffs on him, and pushed him face down in the dirt. (the confrontation took place in the yard of the shop.) My son's co-worker Kim Miller started to tape the incident when she was bullied and shoved by the agent. My wife had called the City Alderman, who called the police to come calm down the agents before somebody got badly hurt or shot.
The addition of police did calm the agents. The agents had come to claim the leopards, and brought no way of handling them, plus no knowledge of controlling them. The incident ended with the agents seizing the animals in place with the intention of getting them at a later date.
The second incident occurred four days later on a Saturday morning, which is a heavy shopping day. At 10:30 a.m., the agents stormed in the front door, chased out the customers, pulled down the shades, flashed a folded paper and said, "We are here to seize the cats." They lined up all the help, made them sit on the floor.
When the manager asked if he could get his camera, he was handcuffed, told to shut up, and thrown on the floor face down. It took these government hellraisers over two hours to tranquilize the leopards, shove them in crates, and leave. The leopards, being tame, could have been called into the crates by our workers. Darting them only endangered them. Most of our help on Saturday morning are high school or college students. They were astonished, intimidated, and frightened by the Gestapo tactics used by the bullies from the U.S. Department of the Interior. All this. And at no time on either occasion were they given any opposition.
Our business suffered financially, but even worse, our reputation suffered from having theses agents with big lettering on their flack jackets chase them out of our store. For two hours our busy phone went unanswered. Other customers came, only to find we were closed, shades down, with the appearance of being out of business. All this could have been avoided, if they had just walked in and asked our workers to help load the leopards. The leopards were already being held for them. Will those young people grow up with a high regard for Uncle Sam? I doubt it!
Such incidents as we have recounted here are but the tip of the iceberg. Such incidents as these have no place in a country like ours. Any behavior such as this should have ceased years ago when the falconers pressed the issue. But their fears that the situation would relapse have proved founded:
"The foregoing examples are cause for concern, since they indicate that the USFWS Division of Law Enforcement includes agents who do not understand the rights of citizens. It is hoped that the investigation initiated by the USFWS as a result of NAFA's concern will lead to an improvement in this regard; however, any such improvement will be long-lasting only if behavior such as described above is reported promptly. Otherwise those in authority are unlikely to find out about backsliding and take corrective action."
Now, fifteen years later, some of the same agents who participated in Operation Falcon are still employed by the Division of Law Enforcement, in high positions. Some have been rewarded for their 'work,' with promotions and raises. It would seem they have not learned their lesson, if that was indeed the goal of their superiors when they looked into Operation Falcon. I believe, however, that these agents are now, and probably were aware, as far back as Operation Falcon and Operation Snakescam before it, of the rights of citizens.
They have simply chosen to ignore those rights, and indeed have become even more brazen in their disregard for the law as the years pass. These same rotten, unconscionable tactics are used year after year, in one USFWS region after another, against one victim after another. The fish is rotten from the head down. If Senator Chafee is not ashamed of what this agency has become, and his part in bringing it about, he is remiss in his duty to the American people. The Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Division has become a gang of thugs, and if the Congress is unwilling to do something about it, this country is in deep trouble.
We will have either a rule of law, or we will be overtaken by terrorists. Who would have thought the terrorists would have come from within?
Domestic terrorism? You bet there's domestic terrorism, masquerading under color of law, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Department of Law Enforcement. They need to be reined in, NOW!!!! No more rights should be violated at the hands of this agency. No more people should be persecuted to perpetuate an agency run out of control. We are a country of laws, and those that would enforce them must be above reproach. The Law Enforcement division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not.