ANCHORAGE – An Anchorage man was sentenced Wednesday to six months home confinement and more than $400,000 in fines and restitution for illegally trafficking in walrus ivory and failing to report business income to the IRS.
According to court documents, Walter Earl, 76, owner of The Antique Gallery, regularly trafficked in illegal walrus ivory for many years. On three separate occasions in 2017, Earl knowingly violated the Lacey Act by illegally purchasing and selling walrus ivory ‘head mounts’ (i.e. the skull and ivory tusks of a walrus) to undercover agents. In these unlawful sales, Earl tried to conceal the illegal nature of his activities by falsifying documents and lying to purchasers about the ivory’s source, stating the ivory was legal to purchase and sell due to its age and claiming he was legally allowed to purchase the walrus ivory because he employed Alaska Natives. In addition to those illegal sales and lies, the investigation uncovered that Earl had illegally purchased more than 50 walrus tusks, which he kept as inventory for future illegal sales.
Separately, the investigation revealed that Earl intentionally failed to file individual income tax returns for the years 2013 through 2017. Earl’s gross income included income from his antique business which totaled $679,245 for the five-year period. To avoid creating records of revenue and income, Earl kept inadequate business records, primarily used cash and structured transactions at various financial institutions to sidestep banking reporting requirements. He also instructed his employees not to report the income they earned.
Earl pleaded guilty to three felony wildlife trafficking counts under the federal Lacey Act and one count of tax evasion. As part of his sentence, the court ordered Earl to pay $185,000 in fines and $216,054 in restitution to the IRS for back taxes owed. The court also ordered Earl to forfeit 50 walrus tusks and other illegal marine mammal parts to the United States.
“This joint investigation revealed and recovered all the illicit profits from an underground operation trafficking in one of Alaska’s unique marine resources, the North Pacific Walrus,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bryan Wilson, District of Alaska. “In addition to this illegal enterprise, the investigation uncovered the failure of a businessman to perform what millions of our citizens dutifully do each year – prepare, organize and pay their taxes. As the sentence today reflects, our office, in partnership with law enforcement agencies, has ensured Mr. Earl has profited not one penny from his illegal endeavors. We are committed to protecting Alaska’s wildlife resources and will pursue fraudulent business activity, no matter which type.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to protecting our unique and highly vulnerable marine mammal species from illegal exploitation and commercialization,” said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Rory Stark. “Activities such as these not only impact the viability of walrus populations, but also subsistence and traditional handicraft creation relied on by Alaska Native people. We are dedicated to combatting all forms of illegal wildlife trafficking, especially those involving our domestic species of conservation concern.”
“Mr. Earl disregarded the law to further his business interests and he intentionally evaded paying his fair share of tax on those profits. Not only did he exploit natural resources, but he undermined our tax system through the unfair advantage he had over other businesses that play by the rules,” said IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Acting Special Agent in Charge Corinne Kalve. “IRS-CI will continue to investigate those who operate outside the law and fail to pay their fair share of taxes.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement (USFWS) and the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) investigated the case. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also assisted in the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Aunnie Steward and Steve Skrocki prosecuted the case.