Quebec Woman Arrested, Charged With Selling And Smuggling Wildlife Skulls

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BUFFALO, N.Y.-U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that Vanessa Rondeau, 26, of Montreal, Quebec, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with Lacey Act Trafficking, Lacey Act False Labeling, and smuggling. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango, who is handling the case, stated that according to the complaint, the defendant owns and operates a business called The Old Cavern Boutique in Montreal, which offers for sale a variety of unique curiosity and oddity items, many composed in whole or in part from wildlife. A review of The Old Cavern Boutique’s Facebook page revealed numerous wildlife items for sale, many of which are protected under Federal laws.

On August 29, 2019, Rondeau advertised a taxidermy mounted crow for sale through Facebook for $325. The advertisement included a photograph and instructions to “pm [private message] if interested.” On September 20, 2019, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Special Agent sent the defendant a Facebook private message, in a covert capacity, inquiring about the crow mount. The Special Agent stated that he resided in the United States and asked about the cost to have the crow mount shipped, and about any problems shipping “these things” to the United States because it might be a “protected species.” Rondeau replied that she has never had a problem and explained, “I label them as Art piece.”

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On December 3, 2019, and again on December 28, 2019, Rondeau offered a polar bear skull for sale. The post included photographs listed an asking price of $750 dollars (in the first posting) and $799 (in the second posting). The post instructed interested buyers to “pm [private message] if interested.” On January 13, 2020, in a covert capacity, the USFWS Special Agent contacted the defendant and requested photos of any available polar bear skulls. Rondeau sent a photograph of a polar bear skull with a comment that it was her “Last one.” The defendant offered to sell the polar bear skull for $750, plus $30 for shipping to Buffalo, NY. After requesting and receiving additional photographs, the Special Agent agreed to buy the polar bear skull. The Special Agent received the polar bear skull on February 2, 2020.

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On January 24, 2021, Rondeau posted an advertisement for another polar bear skull for sale for $699 on The Old Cavern Boutique Facebook page. The Special Agent again expressed interest in buying the polar bear skull, and the defendant agreed on the price of $685 for the skull, which included a $35 shipping fee. On February 11, 2021, the Special Agent received the second polar bear skull.

The defendant made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Vermont and was released on $50,000 cash bail. Rondeau will appear in the Western District of New York on June 15, 2021, at 11:30 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer.

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The complaint is the result of an investigation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, under the direction of Ryan Noel, Special Agent-in-Charge of the USFWS-Office of Law Enforcement North-Atlantic Appalachian Region. Additional assistance was provided by the Vermont Office of Homeland Security Investigations, and the Vermont Office of Customs and Border Protection.

The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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