Texas Boot Dealer Jailed for Smuggling Sea Turtle Skins

DENVER, Colorado, June 2, 2008 (ENS) – Jorge Caraveo of El Paso, Texas, was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Denver to serve 18 months in prison for his participation in the sale and smuggling of sea turtle and other exotic skins and skin products into the United States from Mexico.

Along with the prison term, Caraveo was sentenced to three years supervised release and a $300 special assessment, the Justice Department announced.

Caraveo and 10 others were indicted in Denver in August 2007 following a multi-year undercover investigation named Operation Central, conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Branch of Special Operations.

Caraveo and six other defendants were arrested in Texas and Colorado on September 6, 2007. All seven have pleaded guilty.

Caraveo pleaded guilty on January 29, 2008 to three felony counts of smuggling.

Caraveo operated a business in El Paso, Texas named the Juarez Boot Company, through which he bought and sold exotic leathers, including sea turtle, caiman, ostrich and lizard skins; manufactured boots and belts from the skins and sold the skins, boots and belts to customers in the United States.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke receives
a pair of cowboy boots from the Juarez
Boot Company following his remarks at
the Summit on Microfinance in the U.S.
November 2007. (BusinessWire
Commercial Photo)

Products of the Juarez Boot Company have reached high places. In November 2007, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was presented with a pair of custom-made cowboy boots following his remarks at the first Summit on Microfinance in the U.S., held in San Antonio, Texas. The boots were designed by the Juarez Boot Company of El Paso.

Going about his business, Caraveo crossed the border between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas daily and frequently concealed footwear and skins of exotic animals in his vehicle.

Caraveo received in Juarez exotic leathers and leather products from co-defendants in Mexico for clandestine importation into the United States. Caraveo received “crossing fees” as payment for his smuggling activities.

At Caraveo’s sentencing hearing, the court found that the fair market retail value of the skins and hundreds of pairs of boots and shoes smuggled by Caraveo over the past several years was more than $200,000. He will be required to give up ownership of the boots and shoes made from exotic skins which were seized at the Juarez Boot Company for which he cannot produce import certificates.

The investigation of this case involved cooperation between United States and Mexican authorities, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mexican Department of Justice and the Mexican environmental protection agency, PROFEPA.

Mexican authorities seized many hundreds of sea turtle and wildlife items and made a number of related arrests in various areas throughout Mexico during September 2007 as part of a “coordinated takedown” with U.S. law enforcement.

“Today’s sentence is in large part the result of effective cooperation between the U.S. and Mexican governments in the investigation and prosecution of individuals who unlawfully kill endangered and protected wildlife in Mexico and then illegally smuggle that wildlife into the United States,” said Ronald Tenpas, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“The kind of international collaboration shown in this case makes both of our countries stronger,” said Tenpas. “We intend to continue this cooperative relationship with Mexico, and we also hope to continue and establish similar relationships with other countries around the world that share our desire to curb the illegal exploitation of our wildlife and natural resources.”

Five of the seven species of sea turtles that swim the world’s oceans are listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Sea turtles are illegally killed for their shell, meat, skin, and eggs, which are used for food, clothing and decoration. International trade in all sea turtle parts for commercial purposes is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a multilateral treaty to which the United States, Mexico and 170 other countries are parties.

United States law requires that wildlife entering the U.S. be clearly marked and declared to customs or wildlife officials upon entry. Commercial trade in endangered species, including all sea turtles, is banned under U.S. law.

Six of the seven sea turtle species inhabit Mexican waters and nest on Mexican beaches. All killing of sea turtles, taking of eggs and sale of sea turtle products has been illegal in Mexico since 1990.

Public campaigns and grassroots efforts have widely informed the public of these restrictions. Nevertheless, the illegal collecting of sea turtle eggs, hunting of the animals for their meat, skin and shells remains one of the leading threats to their survival.

Sea turtles are slow-growing, late-maturing animals. About one percent of hatchlings make it to adulthood, making each reproductive adult ecologically significant to many subsequent generations. The illegal killing of one adult turtle for its meat, skin or shell, does the same damage to the population as taking many thousands of eggs.

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