Trial begins Tuesday for NJ man allegedly involved in narwhal whale tusk smuggling conspiracy

Narwhals breach the water in this file photo.
Photo courtesy National Institute of Standards and Technology via Wikimedia Commons
Narwhals breach the water in this file photo.
Posted Feb. 09, 2014, at 10:14 a.m.
An illustration of Narwhals from &quotLife of Animals Part 1, Chapter 12: Sirens, Chapter 13: Walvisch-like" by AE Brehm.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
An illustration of Narwhals from "Life of Animals Part 1, Chapter 12: Sirens, Chapter 13: Walvisch-like" by AE Brehm.
Jay Gus Conrad, 67, of Lakeland, Tenn. (left) leaves the Federal Building with his attorney, Virginia Villa, in Bangor in this January 2014 file photo.
Jay Gus Conrad, 67, of Lakeland, Tenn. (left) leaves the Federal Building with his attorney, Virginia Villa, in Bangor in this January 2014 file photo.

BANGOR, Maine — The trial of a New Jersey man accused of being part of an international conspiracy to smuggle rare narwhal whale tusks, valued between $400,000 and $1 million, into the U.S. from Canada is scheduled to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Andrew J. Zarauskas, 60, of Union, N.J.; Jay Gus Conrad, 67, of Lakeland Tenn.; and Gregory Robert Logan, 56, and his wife, Nina Logan, 53, both of Woodmans Point, New Brunswick, Canada, and Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada were indicted by a federal grand jury in November 2012 .

All four were charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to import merchandise, conspiracy to launder money, smuggling goods into the U.S. and money laundering.

Zarauskas, who is free on bail, was unaware of the Logans’ smuggling activities and believed the tusks originated in the U.S., his attorney, Stephen Smith of Bangor, wrote in his trial brief filed Jan. 31. The New Jersey man believed what he was doing was legal, Smith said.

Federal prosecutor Todd S. Mikolop, who works in the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in his trial brief filed Jan. 21 that Zarauskas “paid for the tusks knowing that the payments were ultimately destined for Canada and knowing that making the payments would allow for Zarauskas to illegally traffic additional narwhal tusks in the future.”

Zarauskas is described by Mikolop as the owner of a construction business who collects and deals in antiques, including marine mammal ivory such as narwhal tusks and sperm whale teeth. The New Jersey man worked with law enforcement between 2003 and 2006 and provided information about the illegal sperm whale teeth trade that led to five convictions.

“Unbeknownst to law enforcement at the time, however, Zarauskas was also illegally buying and selling narwhal whale tusks that he knew had been illegally imported into the United States,” Mikolop said in his trial brief. “Evidence will show that Zarauskas received the narwhal tusks from [Gregory] Logan and resold them, primarily at flea markets.”

The male narwhal whale’s ivory tusk spirals counter-clockwise from its head and can be as long as eight feet, according to NationalGeographic.com. Scientists have speculated it is prominent in mating rituals, perhaps used to impress females or battle rival suitors.

The narwhal is a medium-size whale native to Arctic waters and protected in the U.S. by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In Canada, it is protected in the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Only the Inuit may legally harvest the whale in Canada. The Inuit may legally sell the tusks in Canada.

Conrad pleaded guilty last month to one count each of conspiracy to smuggle goods into the U.S., conspiracy to launder money and smuggling goods into the U.S. He is free on bail awaiting sentencing but is listed as a witness for the prosecution at Zakauskas’ trial.

A former Canadian Mountie, Gregory Logan on Feb. 1 completed four months of home confinement and will be on probation in Canada another four months. He also was ordered to pay a $385,000 fine — the highest ever issued in Canada for violating that country’s wildlife laws, according to Canadian news reports. Logan also was prohibited from possessing or purchasing marine mammal products for a period of 10 years. The ex-Mountie is awaiting extradition to the U.S., according to court documents filed in federal court in Bangor.

Nina Logan has not yet been arrested on the U.S. charges. Charges against her in Canada were dismissed last year after Gregory Logan pleaded guilty in New Brunswick to crimes connected to the smuggling operation.

Zarauskas and the Logans, if convicted, each face up to 20 years in federal prison in the U.S. Each also could be fined $500,000 or twice the value of the money involved in the offense, whichever is greater.

 

 

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