A federal jury has found Andrew Zarauskas of Union, New Jersey guilty on a variety of charges associated with smuggling narwhal tusks. Zarauskas was found guilty of conspiracy, money laundering, and smuggling for illegally importing narwhal tusks into the U.S.
Narwhals are a protected endangered species, making their tusks and other parts illegal for import into the U.S. without the proper permits.
Zarauskas imported 33 narwhal tusks from Canada between 2002 to 2008. He then sold the tusks in the U.S. and laundered his gains by funneling them back through Canada using money orders and checks. His smuggling ring was uncovered through a joint investigation involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Two other men who conspired with Zarauskas have been charged with crimes related to the tusk smuggling and money laundering. It is estimated that the men sold around $2.5 million worth of narwhal tusks.
“The Justice Department takes seriously our responsibility to prosecute those who engage in the illegal trade of any protected wildlife species,” said Robert Dreher acting assistant attorney general for the Environmental and Natural Resourced Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. “Zarauskas and his co-conspirators flouted U.S. law and international agreements that protect marine mammals such as the narwhal for their own personal financial benefit. The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute those engaged in this insidious trade in order to protect species for future generations to enjoy.”
For his part in the smuggling scheme Zarauskas now faces up to 20 years in prison and an fine of up to $250,000. The date of his sentencing has not yet been set.