HONOLULU (CN) - Federal officials seized more than 430 walrus, whalebone and coral carvings after criminally charging a Hawaiian gift shop, its owner and others on wildlife smuggling charges.
In a stipulated motion filed Tuesday, prosecutors and Hawaiian Accessories ask for the court to extend the time to file the contested forfeiture complaint until March 16, 2016.
The United States filed a 21-count criminal indictment against the gift shop and five people involved with it in June, after seizing the trove of carvings in late May. Many of them are believed to have been smuggled from the Philippines.
Seized were 166 walrus ivory carvings and tusk, 40 black coral carvings, 78 pieces of black coral jewelry and a bag of black coral beads, 90 proboscidean and elephantidae (elephant) ivory carvings, 38 whale bone carvings, 7 mammalian ivory carvings, 9 mammalian bone carvings, and two whole raw sperm whale teeth.
Walrus, elephants and black corals are endangered species.
The criminal charges include smuggling for import and export, conspiracy, and Lacey Act violations.
Wildlife smuggling penalties can be severe: up to 5 years in federal prison for each felony conviction and up to 1 year for each misdemeanor, plus six-figure fines.
The government claims that Hawaiian Accessories owner Curtis Wilmington bought or tried to buy raw walrus tusks and sperm whale teeth from an undercover agent several times.
"During the course of these transactions, Wilmington and the UC discussed the general illegality of selling walrus and sperm whale ivory via text message and emails," the complaint states.
In one transactions, Wilmington asked that two large walrus tusks be cut into 6x-inch pieces before being shipped from Alaska, to "disguise them from inspectors at the airport," according to the indictment.
Shipping records seized during the raid in May shoed that Wilmington had been dealing with Jun Biscocho, owner of JR Wooden Inc., in Talisay City, Cebu, Philippines.
"Defendant Elmer Biscocho facilitated the placement of raw, illicit Marine mammal ivory into boxes of koa wood, unmanifested and undeclared," the complaint states.
Curtis Wilmington's daughter Kauilani Wilmington also was charged as were brothers Sergio and Elmer Biscocho, and Kauiokaala Chung, the accounting and ordering manager for Hawaiian Accessories.
Jun Biscocho is not a defendant.
Hawaiian Accessories advertises itself on its website as having 27 years in the business, "offering the very best in authentic koa wood jewelry." The gift shop has 5 retail stores and calls itself the "premiere center for made in Hawaii products."
Surveillance of the gift showed Kaala Chung and Elmer Biscocho sorting through smuggled ivory carvings at a work table, removing the "Made in the Philippines" labels, according to the indictment.
"Defendants Kaala Chung and Curtis Wilmington and various other sales staff of Hawaiian Accessories made statements indicating that the items were derived from fossilized ivory material and were handcrafted in Hawaii by native artisans," the complaint states.
The black coral carvings are believed to have come from Cozumel, Mexico.
Wildlife smuggling is believed to be the fourth most profitable criminal specialty in the world, after weapons, drugs and humans.
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