Oct. 11, 2023 By Ben Brachfeld
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have indicted two men they say smuggled more than $1 million worth of exotic bird taxidermy and eggs into the United States, in violation of statutes and treaties meant to protect wildlife.
John Waldrop, 74, of Columbus, Georgia, and Toney Jones, 53, of Eufala, Alabama, surrendered to federal authorities in Georgia on Wednesday morning, and are charged with smuggling, conspiracy to smuggle and commit money laundering, and violating the Endangered Species Act.
They are due to be extradited to New York and will be arraigned in Brooklyn on Oct. 16; the duo, who allegedly smuggled much of their contraband through John F. Kennedy Airport, could face up to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors allege that over a four-year period, Waldrop and Jones illegally imported 779 taxidermied bird mounts and 2,594 eggs into the United States, valuing their collection at over $1.2 million. They did not secure any permits for these imports, nor did they declare any of them to Customs and the Fish & Wildlife Service as is required.
In doing so, Waldrop and Jones purportedly violated the Washington Convention, signed by 184 countries including the United States, regulating the trade of endangered flora and fauna. The treaty is codified in US law as the Endangered Species Act. The duo also ran afoul of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act outlawing hunting and dealing in bird species that migrate between member nations.
“It is in our national and global interest to enforce federal laws and treaties that protect endangered birds from the harm of alleged profiteers like the defendants, and the Eastern District of New York will do so,” said Breon Peace, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Waldrop and Jones allegedly used Etsy and eBay to purchase bird mounts from dealers all across the world, from Hungary, Iceland, and the United Kingdom to Russia, Uruguay, and South Africa, among others. Many of their packages were delivered into the United States through JFK.
The pair would regularly consult with a network of poachers inquiring about new birds for sale, while the dealers would keep them apprised of newly killed birds available for purchase. Their collection grew to include exotic species of owls, hawks, eagles, parrots, herons, spoonbills, ducks, kestrels, and various other species.
The smuggling charge specifically relates to the import through JFK of a Levant sparrowhawk, a grasshopper buzzard-hawk, two murre eggs, two gull eggs, and one unknown egg, between May and July of 2020. Other importations are covered under conspiracy charges.
Prosecutors also accuse the pair of laundering money by routing funds outside of the United States to finance their wildlife purchases.