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NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement plays key role in dismantling international smuggling ring

Evidence seized as part of an international investigation involving the smuggling of narwhal tusks from Canada to the United States. Narwhal tusks can fetch thousands of dollars each on the black market depending on size and quality.

A multiyear investigation involving NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Environment Canada has led to the dismantling of an international ivory smuggling ring.  Three co-defendants in Tennessee and New Jersey have been arrested in connection with illegal trafficking of narwhal tusks from Canada to the United States.

The narwhal is a medium-sized toothed whale native to Arctic waters and protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Its distinctive tusk is actually the upper left canine tooth protruding from the jawbone. The world’s narwhal population is vulnerable due to its limited range and small population size. If left unchecked, this illegal trade could irreparably harm the species.

Andrew J. Zarauskas of Union, New Jersey, was convicted on February 11, 2014, on two counts of smuggling, two counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy to smuggling, and one count to conspiracy to money laundering. Sentencing will follow later this year.

Along with two other co-defendants, he conspired for nearly a decade to transport the tusks to buyers in the United States by smuggling them across the Canada-U.S. border, in violation of the MMPA. Under the MMPA it is illegal for any person to transport, purchase, sell, export, or offer to purchase, sell, or export any marine mammal or marine mammal product for any purpose other than public display, scientific research, or enhancing the survival of a species.

While Canada does allow tusks to be exported to foreign countries, it will not issue permits for narwhal parts to countries that ban them, including the United States. The transboundary shipment of the tusks is also in direct violation of the 170-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The dealer, Gregory R. Logan, of Alberta, Canada, purchased the tusks in Canada and smuggled them across the Canada border into Maine in a makeshift compartment under his trailer. He sold more than 400 narwhal tusks to buyers across the country from 2003 to 2010, including Zarauskas, Jay Conrad of Lakeland, Tennessee, and Eddie Dunn of Eads, Tennessee.

Logan has active arrest warrants out of the United States in connection with the case. Conrad pled guilty in the District of Maine to conspiring to illegally import and traffic narwhal tusks, conspiring to launder money, and illegally trafficking narwhal tusks. Dunn pled guilty in the District of Alaska to conspiring to illegally traffic narwhal tusks and to trafficking them. He is scheduled to be sentenced in Alaska District Court on March 20, 2014.

“Cooperation was a critical component in taking down this wildlife trafficking ring,” said NOAA Special Agent Todd Nickerson. “The efforts of all agencies involved will ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy all the benefits these valuable, but vulnerable, species provide.”

Logan has been convicted in Canadian court of seven counts of trafficking offenses relating to 250 narwhal tusks. He was fined $385,000, and given an 8-month conditional sentence. The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to extradite Logan for money laundering; an extradition hearing is scheduled later this year.

“Conservation of protected resources, including marine mammals, is a core mission of NOAA Fisheries, and the Office of Law Enforcement will continue uphold the laws and regulations to ensure compliance,” said Logan Gregory, Special Agent in Charge of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, Northeast Division.

Story by John Thibodeau, communications specialist for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. To contact him, please call 301-427-8234 or email john.thibodeau@noaa.gov.