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U.S. Prosecutes Endangered Species Traffickers

Nov 24, 2017

The U.S. continues to prosecute endangered species traffickers. Michael Hegarty, an Irish national, was sentenced in federal court in Miami, Florida, on November 14th to 18 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for fraudulently facilitating the transportation and concealment of a libation cup carved from the horn of an endangered rhinoceros.

Hegarty's sentencing “is the result of the strong partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those who engage in illegal trade in protected wildlife,” said Jeffrey Wood, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice .

Un ranger marche derrière deux rhinocéros dans un parc protégé près de Marondera, à l'est de la capitale Harare, Zimbabwe, le 20 septembre 2014.
Un ranger marche derrière deux rhinocéros dans un parc protégé près de Marondera, à l'est de la capitale Harare, Zimbabwe, le 20 septembre 2014.

“There is a frequent connection between wildlife smuggling and organized criminal activity. We remain committed to combatting this illegality.”

Hegarty's arrest and subsequent extradition were part of “Operation Crash,” a U.S. crack-down on criminal trafficking in rhinoceros horns.

Hegarty's eighteen month sentence was the high end of the sentencing range for his crime.

Operation Crash was conducted by the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with other federal and local law enforcement agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations. Office of International Affairs of the Department of Justice played an important role the extradition procedures. A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros. Operation Crash was an effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.

The sentencing of Michael Hegarty “sends a message to those who profit from the slaughter and illicit trade of wildlife, you will be caught and prosecuted no matter where you hide,” said Ed Grace, Acting Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I commend our special agents who connected this defendant to the Rathkeale Rovers, a transnational organized crime syndicate responsible for trafficking endangered rhinoceros products worldwide. Thank you to our international counterparts and to the U.S. Department of Justice for arresting, extraditing, and prosecuting this individual.”