AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — A West Texas A&M University Biology professor has pleaded guilty in Amarillo Federal Court to violating the Lacey Act by importing various animal-related items from overseas and not reporting the items through related permits.
According to previous reports, Richard Kazmaier initially pleaded not guilty in February on three charges, one of which was related to the importing of these items and the other two of which were related to violations of the Endangered Species Act. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service defines the Lacey Act as a law that “combats illegal trafficking of wildlife, fish and plants.”
The factual resume which accompanied the plea agreement, filed Thursday in Amarillo Federal Court, said that Kazmaier did import wildlife merchandise into the United States without declaring the items to customs authorities or obtaining the necessary permits.
The documents read that Kazmaier operated an eBay account under the username “Tortuga Tex,” and provided two mailing addresses at West Texas A&M University. Between March 2013 and February 2020, the documents state that he imported around 358 items into the United States with a market value of about $14,423.
The documents read that Kazmaier purchased wildlife items from online sellers in countries including Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Latvia, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. These items included taxidermy mounts, skeletons, bones and feathers. However, the documents stressed that Kazmaier did not purchase any live animals.
“Kazmaier knew that wildlife merchandise brought into the United States must be declared to customs authorities and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” the documents read. “He was further aware that wildlife protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) required additional import and/or export permits before they could be traded internationally. He knew that wildlife listed in the CITES treaty were threatened with extinction or could become threatened if their international trade was not restricted.”
The documents state that Kazmaier did not declare any of the wildlife items except on around three occasions when inspectors from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intercepted the shipments and gave him an opportunity to file documents retroactively. The following wildlife imports were listed in the factual resume as ones that were not declared or were without the required CITES Treaty permits:
- March 2, 2017: Golden jackal;
- March 5, 2017; Caracal;
- May 6, 2017; Eurasian otter;
- May 18, 2017: Vervet monkey;
- July 24, 2017: Red-billed leiothrix;
- Aug. 11, 2017: Chinese kwamei;
- Oct. 8, 2017: Crab-eating fox;
- Nov. 4, 2017: Masked palm civet;
- Feb. 1, 2018: Mountain weasels;
- Feb. 5, 2018: King bird-of-paradise;
- Feb. 5, 2018: African harrier hawk;
- Oct. 28, 2018: Greater naked-tailed armadillo;
- Aug. 8, 2019: Horsfield’s treeshrews;
- Nov. 11, 2019: Eurasian lynx.
The documents said that Kazmaier purchased the wildlife items on eBay and other websites with his own money and stored them at West Texas A&M University. Kazmaier did not resell any of the items, the documents said, but traded or gave some of the items to other professors, collectors and students.
“At trial, the government would be able to prove all the essential elements of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt,” the documents read. “The evidence includes online sales records, banking history and shipping information detailing Kazmaier’s international wildlife purchases. Email messages show Kazmaier coordinated with the sellers on shipping the wildlife and discussed the permit requirements. USFWS inspectors intercepted several of Kazmaier’s purchases, and the wildlife items were later found in his collection. Kazmaier admitted to USFWS agents that he imported the wildlife and knew that it was against the law. He provided them with a log of his imports and abandoned the imported wildlife.”
According to the plea agreement, the maximum penalties Amarillo Federal Court officials can impose on this count includes:
- Imprisonment for a period not to exceed five years;
- A fine not to exceed $250,000, or twice any pecuniary gain to the defendant or loss to the victim(s);
- A term of supervised release of not more than three years;
- Restitution to victims or to the community, which may be mandatory under the law, and which the defendant agrees may include restitution arising from all relevant conduct, not limited to that arising from the offense of conviction alone.
In the plea agreement, the legal teams for both the prosecution as well as Kazmaier agreed “to recommend to the Court that the defendant pay a fine of $5,000” to the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund. According to the documents, this fund contains “criminal fines, penalties and forfeitures collected pursuant to the Lacey Act,” and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Rewards are paid from this account to persons who furnish information that leads to an arrest, criminal conviction, civic penalty assessment, or forfeiture of property for any violation of the Lacey Act or its regulations, as well as the costs incurred by persons who provide temporary care for fish, wildlife, or plants pending the disposition of any civil or criminal Lacey Act proceeding.”
In a statement provided to MyHighPlains.com when the indictment was released earlier this year, officials with West Texas A&M University said that they are aware of the situation and do not comment on active court cases. Officials with the university also said that the indictment also does not involve the university.
MyHighPlains.com reached out again to the university regarding Friday’s development in this litigation. University officials said they had no further comment on the matter, as of this story’s publication. Kazmaier continues to be listed as an associate professor of biology at West Texas A&M University as of Friday afternoon.