Middleburg Shop Owner Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Endangered Wildlife

The owner of an antiques and specialty shop in Middleburg pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating the Lacey Act by illegally selling and transporting between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of items made from endangered species, migratory birds, and other wildlife.

According to documents filed in Federal District Court, Keith Foster, 60, of Upperville, was the owner of The Outpost, which specialized in selling foreign-sourced merchandise—including wildlife products made from endangered species such as crocodiles, sea turtles, and sawfish.

To evade enforcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Foster relied on a shipping company to falsify import records to hide wildlife items and avoid inspection.

According to court documents, on numerous occasions beginning in December 2016, Foster acknowledged that he understood the illegal nature of his conduct, including telling a customer it was illegal to import sawfish blades but he was going to continue to smuggle them. “Rest assured, I’m gonna bring more in. Cause I’m the only fool in the States that probably wants to risk it,” he was quoted as saying.

During March and April 2017, Foster imported more than 100 undeclared wildlife items, including items protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) such as sea turtle shell, sawfish blades, crocodile skin bags, coral, and mounted birds of prey. CITES is an international treaty that provides protection to fish, wildlife and plant populations that are or could be harmed as a result of trade and restricts the international trade and transport of species that are threatened with extinction.

On April 12, 2017, Foster showed a customer numerous wildlife pieces for sale, including sawfish blades, turtle shell, ivory, zebra hide, crocodile, and various birds and bird parts. Foster told an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent posing as a customer about smuggling wildlife, about lacking the proper CITES permits to purchase, export, and later import some protected wildlife, and about the dangers of being caught by United States Customs, according to evidence in the case. The customer then purchased numerous wildlife items including sawfish blades, a mounted barn owl, and a jar made from sea turtle shell, all of which were previously smuggled by The Outpost.

As part of his plea agreement, Foster and The Outpost forfeited $275,000 and more than 175 items made from wildlife, which were previously smuggled and being offered for sale.

After pleading guilty, Foster faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison when sentenced on March 8.

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