Toronto Artist Traded Endangered Species, Canada, U.S. Allege

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, July 14, 2005 (ENS) - The Internet is being used increasingly to support illegal trade in wildlife specimens and products, according to Canadian and U.S. wildlife officers. The warning came Wednesday as a Toronto man was charged in Canada for selling parts of endangered species on the Internet.

Officials of both countries cooperated in the investigation and arrest of Mark J. Gleberzon, age 36, for allegedly selling products containing elephant ivory and parrot feather ornaments to U.S. wildlife officers in New York.

After a 15 month investigation, Gleberzon was arrested May 12 by United States Fish and Wildlife Service special agents at LaGuardia International Airport in New York City while attempting to board a return flight to Canada.

On the day Gleberzon was taken into custody in New York, Canadian Wildlife Service officers, with the assistance of the Canada Border Services Agency, executed a search warrant at his residence in Toronto.

Officials said "numerous artifacts made from endangered species parts and documents containing evidence of the alleged offenses" were seized at that time.

Officers said they found parts of endangered African elephants, Himalayan pheasants, birds of paradise, sperm whales, walrus and long-eared owls.

The majority of the sales investigated took place on an Internet auction site, Canadian Wildlife Service officials said, although they declined to name the website.

Gleberzon was charged Wednesday with 44 counts under Canada's Wild Animal Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, in addition to charges he faces in the United States.

The Canadian violations relate to the possession, offer for sale, sale, import, export and interprovincial transport of endangered animals and their parts between October 2002 and May 2005.

Persons convicted of offenses under these statutes face maximum fines of $150,000 and $100,000 respectively, or imprisonment for a term not longer than five years, or both.

In the United States, Gleberzon was arraigned on numerous felony charges, including smuggling endangered animal products into the United States in person and via mail and courier.

Gleberzon was released on a US$500,000 bond and a probation order which restricts his travel to the Greater Toronto Area and federal court in Buffalo, New York.

U.S. officials declined to provide any further information on the case, saying the investigation is still ongoing.

In the United States, Gleberzon faces fines ranging between $25,000 and $150,000 per count and possible imprisonment between six months and five years upon conviction.

Trade in endangered species is governed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international treaty with 167 participating nations, including both Canada and the United States.

While the Internet provides opportunities for traders in illegal wildlife parts to sell their wares, it also provides opportunities for investigators to pursue them, a senior Canadian Wildlife Service official said.

Gleberzon is a Toronto artist who exhibited in the Toronto Art Expo 2004 and at this summer's Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition.

He is listed as an artist in the directory of Chicago's December 2004 Merchandise Mart One of a Kind show and sale. For three days in December, handmade gifts by North American artists and craftspeople are sold at the Merchandise Mart.

This December it is not likely that Mark Gleberzon's artwork will be among them.