ORLANDO, Fla. - Joseph Barringer, 55, the owner of a Florida pool cue company, pleaded guilty today 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, Fla., manufactured custom pool cues and parts, including parts made from elephant ivory. Although his company's Web page stated that he did not sell oversees because it was illegal, he sold ivory laden pool cues to an undercover police officer of the London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) who was working in coordination with special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
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, according to documents filed in court, including 24 elephant tusk tips. Agents also seized more than 1,800 Cuban cigars which are considered smuggled because they are prohibited in the United States and can only be brought into the country via clandestine means.
According to the plea agreement, there is not evidence enough to establish whether or not the ivory was illegally smuggled into the United States, although the defendant made a practice to obtain statements from sellers indicating that the ivory he purchased was lawful. However, according to papers filed in court, Barringer sent an email in November 2007 to his customers, including the foreign undercover police 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 penalty carries a maximum sentence of one year of imprisonment, 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 U.S. Endangered Species Act and is also protected by the CITES, an international treaty regulating trade on endangered species to which the United States is a party. The global demand for elephant ivory led to devastating declines in the number of these giant animals, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite international efforts to control the ivory trade and stop the decline of elephant populations, prices and demand remain high, thus causing continued elephant poaching and illegal ivory finding its way into international and domestic markets.
The investigation was conducted by special agents of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and ICE HSI, with assistance from London Metropolitan Police in London.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Richard A. Udell of the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Ambrose of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division.