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.

 

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