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United States v. 3,210 Crusted Sides of Caiman Crocodilus Yacare

ELR Citation: 16 ELR 20889
Nos. No. 84-0959-CIV, 636 F. Supp. 1281/(S.D. Fla., 05/28/1986)

The court holds that a shipment of caiman hides making an unscheduled landing at Miami International Airport is subject to forfeiture under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Lacey Act. The court first holds that the government had probable cause to institute a forfeiture proceeding under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The court holds that an unscheduled landing at Miami International Airport constitutes importation within the meaning of ESA §9(a)(1)(A). The court also holds that the testimony of an experienced Fish and Wildlife Service special agent and of an outside expert that the shipment consisted not of the species claimed by the shippers but of a species listed as endangered was reasonable grounds under the Act for the government to institute proceedings. The court next holds that the government had probable cause to proceed under CITES. Even if the shipment did consist of caiman corocodilus crocodilus, the species listed on the Bolivian export permit, a species that may be traded under CITES, the Convention requires that a permit must be an original or, in the alternative, that it must be an endorsed copy. Since the permit accompanying the caiman hides was neither an original nor was it endorsed, the court holds the permit violates CITES' requirements. The permit also violates CITES in that it indicates the shipment consisted of 3,210 hides, when in fact it consisted of 10,875 hides. The court holds that the government has also shown probable cause to institute forfeiture proceedings under the Lacey Act, which prohibits the importation of wildlife taken in violation of foreign law. Bolivian law prohibits the capture of caimans under 1.5 meters, and most of the hides in this shipment were substantially smaller.

Turning to the claimants' burden, the court holds that claimants' testimony regarding shrinkage of the hides during tanning does not show by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is not subject to forfeiture under either CITES or the Lacey Act. The court finds it unnecessary to rule whether they have met their burden of proof under the ESA. The court rejects claimants' defense of innocence, holding they have not made the required afirmative showing of each of the defense's elements. Finally, the court holds that the entire shipment, not just the portion in excess of that listed on the permit, is subject to seizure. Forfeiture of only the excess would defeat the purpose of CITES and undermine the goals of both the Convention and the ESA to prevent the extinction of species.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Robert Rosenburg, Ass't U.S. Attorney
155 S. Miami Ave., Miami FL 33130
(305) 350-4471

Counsel for Defendant
David Weider
777 Brickell Ave., Suite 1114, Miami FL 33131
(305) 358-5304