Man Sentenced for Attempting to Illegally Import Big Game Leopard Trophy

WASHINGTON (LAWFUEL) — Jerry Mason, of Frankfort, S.D., pleaded guilty today and was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Denver for a false statement he provided to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in an attempt to illegally import a leopard hide and skull from a trophy hunt in South Africa, the Justice Department announced.

Mason pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging him with a violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) enforceable under the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act. He was sentenced to pay a $10,000 fine as well as a $10,000 community service payment to the congressionally-established National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Mason will forfeit the hide and skull and also was sentenced to a term of 48 months of probation during which time he will not be allowed to hunt or accompany anyone on a hunt anywhere in the world.

According to the plea agreement, Mason traveled to South Africa in August 2002 to hunt leopards while guided by a South African outfitter named Jan Groenewald Swart who was doing business as “Trophy Hunting Safaris.” During the hunt, Mason shot and killed a leopard even though he knew at that time neither he nor Swart possessed a valid permit. Because the leopards were killed illegally, Mason was not able to legally obtain a valid CITES export permit from South Africa. In order to import the hides and skulls from the leopards into the United States, Swart purchased fraudulent permits in Zimbabwe, and Mason provided false information to USFWS.

Swart arranged to have the hides smuggled from South Africa into Zimbabwe, where he purchased fraudulent CITES export permits for the leopard hides and skulls. Mason then submitted applications to the USFWS falsely claiming that they hunted and killed the leopards in Zimbabwe. On Nov. 5, 2004, USFWS inspectors seized a shipment of five leopard hides and three leopard skulls at the Denver International Airport, which included the hide and skull of leopards that and Mason killed illegally in South Africa in 2002.

“Trafficking in protected animals is a serious crime, so smugglers beware,” said U.S. Attorney Troy Eid.

Leopards (Panthera pardus) are listed on Appendix I of CITES. CITES requires that prior to the transport of any part of an Appendix I species from one country to another, an export permit from the country of origin (or a re-export certificate), and an import permit from the country to which the specimen will be shipped, must be obtained and accompany the shipment. The CITES authorities in South Africa set a yearly quota on the number of export permits issued by that country for Appendix I species, such as leopards. These permits are only issued for leopards that have been killed with a valid hunting permit.

On May 21, 2007, Swart pleaded guilty to smuggling charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado for his role in the illegal hunts. Swart is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence. Mason, along with Wayne D. Breitag of Aberdeen, S.D., was indicted by a federal grand jury on Aug. 6, 2008, for violations of the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife statute.

The investigation of this case was lead by Special Agents of the USFWS. The case is being prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado.

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