Jurors shown narwhal whale tusk as smuggling trial of NJ man begins in Bangor

Posted Feb. 11, 2014, at 1:56 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 11, 2014, at 6:45 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal prosecutor gently grasped an eight-foot long narwhal whale tusk and showed it to jurors Tuesday as the trial of a New Jersey man accused of being part of an international smuggling conspiracy got underway.

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. Only Zarauskas, who is free on bail, is on trial this week at U.S. District Court in Bangor.

“This a narwhal whale tusk,” James B. Nelson, a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., said. “It’s very rare, and it’s very valuable. They sell for about $70 an inch, which makes this one worth almost $6,000. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, you have to break the law to get them.”

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Nelson, who works in the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said breaking the law is what Zarauskas did between 2002 and 2010. For some of that time, the New Jersey man was an informant who helped investigators convict five people of smuggling whale teeth into the U.S.

Zarauskas bought the tusks on the Internet from Logan, who smuggled them into the U.S. in a specially outfitted trailer with a hidden compartment, and sold them at flea markets, Nelson told the jury of 10 men and four women, including two alternates. Under the endangered species act, the whale’s tusk can only be imported for scientific purposes, unless it can be proven the whale from which it came was killed before 1972, when the law was passed.

None of the tusks to be introduced as evidence qualified, the federal prosecutor said. Logan shipped the tusks by FedEx in Bangor to Zarauskas. The defendant sent money to a post office box that Logan rented in Ellsworth, according to the prosecutor.

Zarauskas’ attorney, Stephen Smith of Bangor, told jurors in his opening state that “the government’s case is very complex. Mr. Zarauskas’ case is very simple.”

Smith said his client believed that what he was doing was legal — buying whale tusks from Maine and reselling them. One of the investigators with whom Zarauskas was working as an informant told him what he doing was not illegal.

About 2/3 of a 2 1/2-hour recorded interview between Zarauskas, two agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an agent from Environment Canada in 2010 was played for the jury Tuesday afternoon. In it, Zarauskas admitted paying about $35 an inch per tusk and selling them for double that amount, but he insisted he did not know the tusks were being smuggled into the U.S. from Canada.

The rest of the conversation will be played when the trial resumes Wednesday. The case is expected to go to the jury Friday.

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. That spiral marking was notable on the tusk shown to the jury Tuesday. 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 defense at Zarauskas’ trial.

A former Canadian Mountie, Gregory Logan on Feb. 1 completed four months of home confinement and will be on probation in Canada for another four months. He 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.

Unless a witness brings up Logan’s conviction, jurors won’t be told about it. Woodcock granted a defense motion Monday that said the fact that Logan was convicted and fined in Canada might prejudice jurors against Zarauskas. If Conrad takes the stand, the jury would learn about his conviction during his testimony.

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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