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SOS Rhino : In the News : Smuggler of exotic animal items sentenced to time served

Smuggler of exotic animal items sentenced to time served

Associated Press Writer

June 3, 2005, 5:55 PM EDT
NY Newsday

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A man who sneaked a leopard skin and endangered rhinoceros horns into the United States and signed an e-mail message to a potential customer as "Mike the Smuggler" was sentenced Friday to time served.

Michael W. Wilson, 43, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in March following an investigation that began when his 2001 Internet advertisement for the skull of an endangered primate called the aye-aye caught the attention of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents.

The skull was offered for $12,000.

In response to the agents' inquiry, Wilson offered other items and arranged to sell a leopard skin, which arrived wrapped as a Christmas present labeled for "Aunt Betty," U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said.

Wilson, an American who lives and owns a business in Madagascar, also agreed to sell the agents two black rhinoceros horns, saying he would disguise them as African artwork to avoid discovery by U.S. Customs agents. The black rhino is one of the most endangered of the rhinos.

Together, the skin and horns had a market value of between $5,000 and $10,000, authorities said.

The Endangered Species Act prohibits the importation of specific species of animals, including leopards and rhinos, whether living or dead.

Wilson, a former graphics designer described by acquaintances as an adventurous world traveler, signed his e-mail message to the agents "Mike the Smuggler," authorities said.

His attorney, public defender John Humann, said his client "did a lot of puffing and gross exaggerating on the Internet."

"When it was all said and done," Humann wrote in court documents, "he sent over some decaying, moth-ridden, deteriorating 30-year-old junk for more money than he ever could have received in South Africa."

A federal judge in Buffalo issued an arrest warrant for Wilson in 2003. In October 2004, he was detained in South Africa and deported to the United States to face the charges. He has been in custody for six months.

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