Illegal wildlife trade sting nabs 12 in Calif., Nev.

Federal and local authorities made arrests in the sale of endangered species on the internet. See photos of the animals. (Central District of California)

January 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
An Internet sting dubbed "Operation Cyberwild" netted a dozen people in California and Nevada suspected of selling endangered and protected species.

Undercover agents posed as buyers and answered ads on Craigslist, eBay and other websites to purchase, among other things, rugs made of bear and tiger skins, an elephant foot, a live piranha, a polar bear pelt and numerous other live animals or products made from protected animals.

The sting was a joint operation between California Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, with significant help from volunteers with the Humane Society of United States.

Nine people face federal charges and three face California state charges. If convicted, they could face six months to a year in prison and fines of up to $100,000.

List of suspects and what they allegedly sold:

  • George Lovell, 49, of Las Vegas allegedly sold a pair of Loggerhead sea turtle leather boots for $1,000 on Craigslist.
  • Lisa Naumu, 49, of San Diego allegedly sold an $8,000 leopard skin coat, after placing three of such coats for sale on Craigslist.
  • Victor Northrop, 48, of Henderson, Nev., allegedly sold a rug made out of an endangered tiger on Craigslist. The posting listed the item for $12,500, but Northrop allegedly accepted $10,000 for the rug.
  • Karla Trejo, 42, of Sherman Oaks, allegedly sold a live Western Scrub-Jay for $185 on Craigslist.
  • Dan Tram "Majkah" Huynh, 30, of San Diego allegedly sold an Asian arowana for $2,500 on Craigslist.
  • Henry Dao, 41, of Garden Grove allegedly sold two live Red-whiskered Bulbul birds for $1,750 on a website.
  • Kamipeli Piuleini, 35, of Torrance allegedly sold a Hawksbill sea turtle shell on eBay.
  • Tyler Homesley, 24, of Ramona offered to sell three birds, including a Eurasian kestrel and a Black-shouldered Kite, for $150 on an online advertisement.
  • Alfredo Vazquez, 50, of Montebello allegedly sold an elephant's foot, a mounted hawk and a mounted owl.
  • James I. Colburn, 66, of Leona Valley allegedly sold a bear skin rug.
  • Blake William Diekman, 27, of South Pasadena allegedly sold a live piranha.


Feds charge 12 accused in protected animal sales

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A dozen people were charged with violating wildlife laws by allegedly trying to sell a live piranha, other endangered or protected fish, birds and items such as a polar bear pelt and sea turtle boots, federal prosecutors announced Friday.

The charges were filed Thursday under "Operation Cyberwild," a joint federal and state investigation that began in July, a U.S. attorney's office statement said.

Undercover investigators posed as buyers and answered ads placed on Craigslist, eBay and other websites by sellers in Southern California and southern Nevada.

George Lovell, 49, of Las Vegas, was arrested on Friday after he allegedly used Craigslist to sell an undercover agent a pair of boots made from loggerhead sea turtle skin for $1,000.

There was no public phone listing for him in Las Vegas and it wasn't immediately clear Friday whether he had obtained an attorney.

Special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and game wardens from the California Department of Fish and Game also bought a leopard skin coat for $8,000, a tiger rug for $10,000, a live Asian arowana fish for $2,500 and two live red-whiskered bulbul birds for $1,750, authorities said.

During the investigation, authorities also seized live endangered fish and protected migratory birds, an elephant foot, mounted birds and pelts from a leopard and a bear, federal prosecutors said.

"Our ecosystem is complex and precious. Unfortunately, this delicate system continues to face serious threats, including poaching, the introduction of non-native species and the illegal sale of endangered species," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement.

"The sale of endangered animals on the Internet has reached an alarming level, with as much as two-thirds of such sales taking place in the United States," Birotte said. "These Internet sales of wildlife fuel poaching and make the killing of protected animals more profitable."

The Operation Cyberwild task force was aided by volunteers from the Humane Society of United States.

Nine people face federal charges and three face California state charges. If convicted, they could face six months to a year in prison and fines of up to $100,000.

The Associated Press and KABC-TV LOS ANGELES, CA contributed to this report.

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