Joseph Barringer, 55, the owner of a Florida pool cue company, pleaded guilty on 28 October in federal court in Orlando to violating the Endangered Species Act in connection with the illegal export of African elephant ivory through an online auction site.
Barringer, the owner of Cue Components, located in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, manufactured custom pool cues and parts, including parts made from elephant ivory.
His company’s Web page stated that he did not sell the products overseas – a federal offence under US law. Despite this, he sold ivory-laden pool cues to an undercover police officer from the MPS’s Wildlife Crime Unit.
The officer, who was working in coordination with special agents from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, corresponded with Barringer over the internet and via telephone between May and June 2007.
A search warrant was executed at the offices of Cue Components and the defendant’s home. Federal agents seized 197 pounds of elephant ivory and cut ivory pieces, including 24 elephant tusk tips.
According to the plea agreement, there is not enough evidence to establish whether or not the ivory was illegally smuggled into the US.
However, according to papers filed in court, Barringer sent an email in November 2007 to his customers, including the MPS officer stating: "We’re loaded up and I do mean loaded up with beautiful Elephant ivory right now. We have 6 pairs of tusks sitting here (actually in storage). We’ve been buying and hoarding it because we don’t know when or where the next ones will come from. And for some reason, we’ve been fortunate in buying a lot of tusks this past year. I think we are to the point where we can now safely sell in some quantity."
Barringer was charged with a misdemeanor violation of the Endangered Species Act for knowingly engaging in trade of ivory specimens, contrary to the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and without a CITES export permit and re-export certificate as a result of his sale of the pool cue containing ivory to the undercover officer in England. The offence carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison, one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $100,000, or twice the gross gain accruing from the crime.
The African elephant is listed as a threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act and is also protected by the CITES, an international treaty regulating trade on endangered species. Despite international efforts to control the ivory trade and stop the decline of elephant populations, prices and demand remain high, causing continued elephant poaching.
The Barringer investigation was conducted by special agents of the US Fish & Wildlife Service and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement with assistance from The MPS.
Barringer will be sentenced at a later date.
Sergeant Ian Knox from the MPS’s Wildlife Crime Unit said: "This result was only possible due to the high level of cooperation between UK and US law enforcement agencies involved in the fight against wildlife crime.
"This man’s greed in using elephant ivory fuels a demand that ultimately can only be sustained by killing elephants. Both our countries are end users of endangered species products and it is right that we continue to support the efforts of law enforcement to stamp out this organised criminal trade."