ST. STEPHEN, New Brunswick — A cross-border case of smuggling rare narwhal tusks into the United States from New Brunswick using a secret compartment in a vehicle and trailer will take its next legal steps in a Bangor, Maine, courtroom next week.
Andrew J. Zarauskasw, 59, of Union, N.J., and Jay Gus Conrad, 66, of Lakeland, Tenn., were indicted in November by a federal grand jury and are scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 11.
The indictment, provided to the Telegraph-Journal by the U.S. Justice Department, also includes the blacked out names of two Canadian citizens who have also been charged in the case.
Found primarily in the Arctic, narwhal are a species of whale whose two-meter tusk is actually an elongated tooth protruding from their skulls. Known as the unicorns of the sea, the illegal trade of a single, spiral ivory tusk can bring in thousands of dollars for smugglers.
The U.S. court proceedings appear to mirror a Canadian case of narwhal tusk smuggling, although nobody involved in either judicial system would confirm the connection between the two sets of charges.
Gregory Robert Logan, 54, and Nina Lorene Logan, 51, both of Woodmans Point, each face 27 charges in Canada that they unlawfully exported narwhal tusks from St. Stephen to Calais, Maine — a violation of the Wild Animal and Plant Protection Regulation under Canada’s International and Interprovincial Trade Act. They also face one charge that they knowingly possessed narwhal tusks for the purpose of exporting from Canada.
The Canadian federal Environment Department filed the indictable charges, alleging the various offenses took place between Sept. 1, 2003, and Aug. 31, 2009.
The two Canadians are scheduled to appear in St. Stephen court on April 2.
The charges in St. Stephen and in Bangor allege that narwhal tusks moved illegally across the border from St. Stephen to Calais across the Milltown Bridge.
In the U.S. case, the grand jury indicted two Americans and two Canadians on four sets of charges: conspiracy to import narwhal tusks illegally, conspiracy to launder money, smuggling goods into the United States and laundering money.
According to the indictment, an unnamed Canadian “purchased narwhal tusks from cooperative retail stores in northern Canada.”
Two people in Canada then contacted purchasers and resellers in the United States via the Internet and email, the document states. They modified a vehicle and a utility trailer with a false bottom to conceal the tusks, then drove across the border to a FedEx facility in Bangor where they shipped the tusks throughout the United States, the indictment states.
Between Sept. 23, 2003, and Aug. 20, 2009, a defendant “caused approximately thirty-eight shipments of smuggled narwhal tusks to be made from Bangor, Maine, via FedEx, to other states including, but not limited to, Tennessee and New Jersey,” the document reads.
The documents allege close to 100 such shipments as well as a scheme to move money through a personal savings account at the Machias Savings Bank in Bangor.
Peter Ewins, a narwhal expert with the World Wildlife Fund Canada, said in an interview Thursday from Toronto that the smuggled tusks in the New Brunswick-Maine cases likely came from animals that were legally killed by Inuit hunters and then legally purchased.
Inuit hunters kill a few hundred narwhals every year in a regulated hunt that WWF-Canada does not feel threatens this species, Ewins said.
“It’s climate change followed fairly closely by increased shipping” that are the real threat to narwhals, he said.
Probably three-quarters of narwhal tusks on the market come from Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet, Broughton Island and Repulse Bay in Canada’s north, Ewins said.
According to one section of the U.S. indictment, a December 2000 email message discovered by investigators shows that an alleged Canadian seller offered “a (five)-foot narwhal tusk” that “came from the Baffin Island area at Pond Inlet.”
The U.S. document also points out that “some international trade in lawfully subsistence-hunted narwhal is allowed, though the necessary export permits must precede international shipments of trophy parts of such animals.”
Canada will not issue export permits for narwhal parts to countries such as the United States which do not permit them to be imported, Ewins said.
It is the “subsequent trade” rather than killing of the animals that investigators apparently believe breaks the law, he said.