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Seized insects donated to Smithsonian

ICE and USDA donate exotic giant insects to the Smithsonian Institute

PHILADELPHIA - Rare and exotic giant beetles seized by federal authorities are being donated to the Smithsonian Institute for its educational program today. The beetles, which were shipped live from Asia, were discovered in a package at the U.S. Post Office in Mohnton, Pa., in May 2008.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) led the investigation into the shipping of live insects without a permit and worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) to seize the more than 20 beetles illegally imported from Taiwan.

People who illegally import prohibited live insects across our nation's borders risk endangering our agricultural industry, our economy and the public's health and safety," said John P. Kelleghan, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Philadelphia "As a result of our work with our federal law enforcement partners and other federal agencies, we prevented a threat to our community and are able to provide educational tools to the Smithsonian Institution."

These specimens are well known to the entomological community but are reminiscent of past incidences in which U.S. agriculture and the environment were threatened and the conservation of U.S. natural resources were impacted by intentional or even accidental introduction of foreign animals into our ecosystem, explained Dr. David G. Furth, Department of Entomology, Smithsonian Institution.

"Illegal importation of live organisms poses potential threats to agriculture through opportunities for them, their parasites or diseases to invade crops and the environment and to spread to other potential hosts in the United States," said Furth. This case also is a good example of how our borders can and are being protected from such threats by CBP and ICE. The Smithsonian Institution's Department of Entomology is composed of scientists of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense and Smithsonian Institution. Threats by insects or associated animals may engage scientists from all three agencies.

Furth further explained the beetles involved (some commonly called Hercules Beetle, Elephant Beetle, Giant Stag Beetle) are spectacular examples of the diversity of nature and, as such, at the Smithsonian Institution will be used as tools for teaching and outreach. They will demonstrate to the public animal diversity, causes of endangered species, threats to agriculture and animal and human health.

"Some may consider these to be nothing more than large beetles, but if let loose to multiply in our environment, they could pose serious threats to our nation's agriculture industry at a critical point in our nation's economic recovery," said Al Martocci, CBP Area Port Director for the Port of Philadelphia. "The Mohnton postal workers did an exceptional job in immediately alerting federal officials, and CBP agriculture specialists quickly mitigated any threats these giant Asian beetles posed. We're grateful that the Smithsonian Institution can now find some positive benefit from a group of formerly dangerous insect pests."

The investigation resulted in the arrest, guilty plea and sentencing of Marc T. Dilullo, of Mohnton, Pa. Dilullo pleaded guilty in federal court to the purchase and receipt of a foreign package containing prohibited live insects without a permit and was sentenced to three years probation and a $5,000 fine.