Arongkron “Paul” Malasukum, 42, a resident of Woodside, New York, was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III, in Sherman, Texas, to nine months in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release for illegally trafficking parts from endangered African lions and tigers.
Malasukum previously pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly C. Priest Johnson to a one-count information charging him with wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.
In papers filed in federal court, Malasukum admitted to meeting with undercover agents who were working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and purchasing a tiger skull from the agents. Malasukum also admitted to purchasing lion skulls from an auction house in Texas through the undercover agents, who were acting as “straw buyers” for Malasukum. Malasukum provided the undercover agents with cash and directed them on which items to bid and ultimately win. After the purchases, Malasukum shipped the tiger and lion skulls from Texas to his home in Woodside, New York. From New York, Malasukum shipped the skulls to Thailand for sale to a wholesale buyer.
As part of his plea, Malasukum admitted that between April 9, 2015, and June 29, 2016, he purchased and exported from the United States to Thailand approximately 68 packages containing skulls, claws, and parts from endangered and protected species, with a total fair market value in excess of $150,000.
The sentence was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Brown for the Eastern District of Texas, and Acting Assistant Director of the Office of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Edward Grace.
“Today’s sentencing is another positive result from the Justice Department’s continued partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in fighting the menace of illegal trade in protected wildlife,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “Those who scheme and plot to criminally profit from the exploitation of these creatures will be brought to justice, as the defendant, in this case, has now learned”
“The defendant, in this case, profited from the endangered status of African lions and tigers by illegally buying and selling their parts on the black market,” said U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Brown for the Eastern District of Texas. “We will continue to enforce our endangered species laws to protect our beautiful animal resources.”
“We are committed to bringing to justice those who would profit from the illegal international and interstate trafficking of wildlife,” said Acting Assistant Director of the Office of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Edward Grace. “We thank our state and federal partners for their help in investigating and prosecuting cases on behalf of imperiled species.”
There are two sub-species of lions that are listed as threatened and/or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Panthera Leo Melanachaita, found in eastern and southern Africa, is listed as threatened, and Panthera leo-Leo, found in India and western and central Africa, is listed as endangered. There are only about 1,400 members of the Panthera leo-Leo species remaining; 900 in 14 African populations and 523 in India. The size and distribution of these populations, population trends, and the severity of the threats to those populations are factors leading to Panthera leo-Leo being listed as endangered under the ESA. The sub-species Panthera leo Melanachaita is believed to number between 17,000 -19,000 and is found across southern and eastern Africa. Although Panthera leo Melanachaita populations are increasing overall, research has indicated there are population groups that are in decline due to ongoing threats; as a result, the sub-species Panthera leo Melanachaita is listed as threatened under the ESA.
The investigation was handled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement with assistance from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Noble and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.