A Lakeville man has pleaded guilty to smuggling more than $26,000 worth of endangered sperm whale teeth from the Ukraine into the U.S.
According to court records, John Bell, of Lakeville, sold about 34 teeth to a co-conspirator from Nantucket in November 2004 while in the Ukraine and shipped the teeth to an associate in Connecticut. The co-conspirator then picked them up, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The teeth weigh about two pounds and Bell told a buyer they would cost about $310 per pound.
Bell works as an artist and scrimshander and documents show he listed the teeth as “paintings” on receipts to hide their sales.
Federal officials said Bell carved some of the teeth and sold nine, worth a combined $20,000, to customers but also sold uncarved teeth.
“Sperm whale teeth can weigh over two pounds each and are alluring to many collectors. But gone are the days when people can buy, sell and trade parts harvested from protected creatures like the sperm whale. This amazing creature is safeguarded from exploitation by federal laws like the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act as well as international treaties,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wood, of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement Wednesday. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that those who attempt to profit from the illegal trade of endangered species will face the consequences for their actions under law.”
Bell entered his plea Wednesday to wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act, a law that bans trade in illegally obtained wildlife, fish and plants, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The buyer was convicted in connection with the trafficking in 2010 and sentenced to 33 months in prison.