The cross-border investigation into an underground narwhal smuggling operation has resulted in three convictions, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and the seizure of dozens of narwhal tusks.
And this week, the smuggler at the center of it all was finally sent to the United States to face more charges in relation to the illegal trade, marking one of the last chapters in one of, if not the most, extensive anti-narwhal smuggling operations ever.
Gregor Logan, who had been convicted of smuggling in Canada, was taken into custody by American police while he waits to face trial on money laundering charges in Maine.
It marks the culmination of a years-long investigation into Logan, a former mountie, and his wife; Jay Conrad, who received the tusks at his Canada Road address in Tennessee; Eddie Dunn, Conrad's co-conspirator who helped him hawk the tusks on auction sites like eBay; and Andrew Zarauskas, a 61-year-old man who moonlighted as a confidential informant for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
"You should know, Mr. Zarauskas, that the narwhal are worth more to the rest of us alive than they are to you dead."
The arrests put an end to a decade-long smuggling operation that crossed the Canada-US border, and moved hundreds of body parts of the threatened narwhal.
The operation was crude, but effective
Logan was the smuggler. He was arrested in 2011 as part of "Operation Longtooth," Environment Canada's codename for the investigation, and charged with seven offences relating to his tusk export operation. In 2013, he was convicted and ordered to pay $385,000 — which, at the time, was the largest ever ordered under Canada's animal and plant trade laws — and was sentenced to eight months probation, including four months of house arrest. While his wife originally faced charges, those were dropped once he confessed to the charges.
His conviction forbids him from purchasing marine mammal products for a decade.
Photo via Ansgar Walk / Wikimedia Commons
Logan's scheme began when he was still a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He would travel south from his New Brunswick home, where he and his wife lived, towards the Maine border. He outfitted a trailer he pulled behind his truck with a secret compartment big enough to sure the tusks, which can be as long as eight-feet. Investigators say he would cross the border and send the narwhal parts by FedEx in Bangor, Maine. His buyers would send the money to Ellsworth, about a 40 minute drive away.
Logan is now being extradited to the United States, where he faces money laundering charges — which could fetch a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and fines up to $500,000.
The Department of Justice estimates Logan sold some $2 million worth of tusks between 2000 and his arrest in 2013.
"Even species of the deep polar waters are not safe until we extinguish the market for protected animals and with it, the livelihood of criminal profiteers who benefit from their exploitation," said US Fish Wildlife Service Deputy Law Enforcement Chief Ed Grace in a statement marking Logan's extradition.
Zarauskas moved the tusks — purchasing them for $35 an inch, then selling them for $70 to buyers around the United States.
Police said Zarauskas purchased about $90,000 worth of tusks during the operation, which were worth between $120,000 and $200,000. A jury pronounced him guilty of two counts of smuggling, two counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy to smuggle, and another count of money laundering. The court slapped him with a $7,500 fine, forced him to return his profits and surrender the remaining tusks, and sentenced him to 33 months of supervised release — one month for every tusk he sold.
Two of the narwhal tusks seized by the Canadian government. (Photo via Environment Canada)
"You should know, Mr. Zarauskas, that the narwhal are worth more to the rest of us alive than they are to you dead," US District Judge John Woodstock told the courtroom, according to the Bangor Daily News. The trial saw prosecutors bring one tusk, valued at some $6,000, into the courtroom to show the jurors.
The New Jersey man's lawyers are appealing the conviction. They've argued that Zarauskas did not know the tusks were coming from Canada, and therefore did not think he was committing a crime. They also think his service as a confidential informant to the wildlife service should be taken into consideration.Conrad and Dunn pled guilty to buying and reselling the tusks, and are awaiting sentencing.
Selling the narwhal tusks is not necessarily illegal in Canada, although permits must be obtained to export them. In Canada, only the northern Inuit population may legally hunt narwhals and there are limits on how many narwhals each community can hunt per year. As of 2000, the average annual catch was 364 whales a year, according to an international report, which also pegs the annual sale of the tusks internationally at around 75 per year.
One of the tusks, seized by the US National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. (Photo via the NOAA)
"During some years, the number of tusks sold by Greg Logan would have accounted for about 15 percent of the annual Narwhal hunt limit in Canada," reads a backgrounder from Environment and Climate Change Canada.
In the United States, it is strictly illegal to import narwhals or their freshly-harvested parts unless they serve a scientific purpose.
An international wildlife treaty, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, puts strict limits on when and how the tusks can be exported and imported. They've recommended that Canada and Greenland, which are the only nations with significant narwhal populations in their waters, adopt new controls and limits on the narwhal trade.
Sites like CanadianIvory.com offer narwhal tusk for sale internationally, but note that their sale into the United States is strictly prohibited — "however mammoth tusk and muskox horn shipments to the US have gone smoothly to date," the site reads. "No permits needed."