NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Discussion on the legal aspects of insect specimen trading and collecting
Kona
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NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Chuck »

Looks like Mr. Limmer is in big trouble.

Sometimes I wonder about people- he must have known that some of the Ornithoptera he sold openly were not common in US trade; sometimes this means the dealer figured out the rules and jumped through hoops, but usually it means that the import is done outside the legal framework.

He must have known USFWS was watching him since they suspended his license, but yet he continued. Maybe at 75 YO he didn't care anymore, or not realize how serious USFWS is. Maybe he thought it was plain stupid to have bureaucrats controlling species that don't need to be controlled and wanted to prove something, and he learned that both parties might be equally indignant, but one has power.

Now he's facing prison time and expensive defense lawyers. All for importing butterflies that are as common as dirt.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by kevinkk »

Well, that's unfortunate. I bought from Dr. Limmer , the specimens he listed on ebay were common Ornithoptera as other sellers listed the same
species, I know he had other, more expensive species he didn't list on ebay.
He was, or is a little gruffy, but I had no problems dealing with him.
I take no pleasure in his current situation.
Remember people- many of us do not follow all the rules, and there are rules even for natives. Perhaps it's a matter of degree for some
persons, but not legal is across the board.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by wollastoni »

What a ridiculous behavior from Charles Limmer.
This kind of behaviors give a very bad image to all insect collectors even those who respect the rules.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Panacanthus »

kevinkk wrote: Wed Oct 11, 2023 3:19 pm Well, that's unfortunate. I bought from Dr. Limmer , the specimens he listed on ebay were common Ornithoptera as other sellers listed the same
species, I know he had other, more expensive species he didn't list on ebay.
He was, or is a little gruffy, but I had no problems dealing with him.
I take no pleasure in his current situation.
Remember people- many of us do not follow all the rules, and there are rules even for natives. Perhaps it's a matter of degree for some
persons, but not legal is across the board.
I have also had a few dealings with him, and the same experience as you. He was actually fairly polite with me and I haven’t had issues. What I’m wondering is if the law goes after his customers also. I certainly never “knowingly” purchased smuggled insects from him but it now seems likely that I have, unknowingly.
“Seems to me the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” -David Attenborough
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Chuck »

Panacanthus wrote: Wed Oct 11, 2023 4:16 pm What I’m wondering is if the law goes after his customers also. I certainly never “knowingly” purchased smuggled insects
Technically, Mr. Limmer is charged with crimes, which would make some sold specimens "evidence." When convicted, those specimens would become "contraband." USFW would consider them contraband now, since no 3-177 exists according to them, however the court has not established that.

In that buyers purchased in good faith they did nothing unlawful.

Either way, USFWS could seize those specimens as either evidence or contraband.

Could Seize. It would be a lot of work. They could request that buyers send the suspect specimens, that doesn't cost much. Or they could go to your house- with a warrant which technically would require they show the court (which issues the warrant) that they believe you are still in possession, and it's in your house. That said, search warrants are like restraining orders, they're pretty much available on request; going into question on whether a warrant was legally signed or not is a whole nother discussion; fact remains, just about anyone with a badge can get a search & seizure warrant.

Either way, it's a lot of work. Have to go to each house. Have to hope you're home. Have to serve the warrant. yada yada yada.

Is it worth the trouble? Usually not. The bust has been done, and that's what they're after- that's what gets promotions, gets media coverage. "USFWS seizes a couple butterflies" in the Peoria news doesn't get anyone anything. In law enforcement, there are attention grabbing things that are worth going after: "gold", "cash", "assault rifle", "pitbull", "Ferrari", "Meth", "ivory", "antiquities", etc. Is Ornithoptera urvilleanus "birdwing" going to get much publicity? I don't think so. So it's not politically worth it.

Besides which, while this investigation has been going on, other legal issues haven't been addressed. USFWS is pressed pretty thin. Time spent getting a warrant for your one urvilleanus and going to your house with four armed agents, and processing the bloody seizure paperwork till 6pm, keeps them from other pressing issues as well as a warm dinner.

When you catch the big fish, you get it taxidermy mounted and go home, you don't bother with the smaller fish.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Panacanthus »

Thank you for the excellent reply Chuck.
“Seems to me the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” -David Attenborough
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Chuck »

wollastoni wrote: Wed Oct 11, 2023 3:35 pm What a ridiculous behavior from Charles Limmer.
This kind of behaviors give a very bad image to all insect collectors even those who respect the rules.
Some thoughts:
1. That's what Catholics and Jews thought when the Nazis starting putting deviates in concentration camps.
2. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
3. No politician ever voted for a law that didn't benefit them.
4. "Everybody" buys specimens off Ebay (and, where else?) and imports them w/o proper permits.

It's only a bad image if publicized. When I was importing from Solomon Islands circa 2001-2010, I was the ONLY importer/ retailer in the world to comply with all Solomon Islands export laws. So if you bought any insects within that date range from any of the "big retailers" they are contraband...yes, those well trusted, name-brand European and US retailers imported specimens sans comprehensive export paperwork.

Now, there are three types of government agencies: (1) useless, (2) redundant, (3) those that get funding via publicity, and (4) those you don't know about and really don't want to know they exist. Most of the big ones are #3. They get funded, and get promotions, by making the news. Oh, and the news makes money too...they're two peas in a pod.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

See anything wrong here?

USFWS management is patting themselves on the back. BIG promotions this year! The Agents are good people- educated in environment, etc. The Special Agents are few and overworked. Most have drank the Koolaid; all have families to feed. Of the 8,000 USFWS employees I'm unaware of a single one that's been to Solomon Islands.

Of the images shown of species being offered, they're all bred. They have zero impact on the environment. It's a bureaucracy thing.

Imported two specimens of Ornithoptera from Solomon Islands. There are two Ornithoptera species in Solomon Islands: the common one that Tennent says couldn't be wiped out if everyone was given a flyswatter, and the really, really common one that's in every back yard. Of the former, they're a bear to catch, plus everyone wants A+ specimens, so Limmers were 99% likelyhood ranched. Ohhhhhhh......another paperwork violation.

What did this investigation & persecution cost? US half million? US $1Million? Solomon Islands or PNG natural resources guys would cry for hours if they got a million bucks for operations. Their entire budgets aren't a million US dollars.

I always say FOLLOW THE MONEY. Who's making money on this? Yeah, Limmer was. So were remote butterfly farmers. But, I just happened to notice, so did some talking heads with USFWS and NYC-area Federal Attorneys.

So, from the counter-perspective, you just keep doing what you're told until butterfly collecting is banned, private butterfly collections are unheard of, and US baseball is mandatory viewing every day of the year.

I only sound anti-government because some of what USFWS does (such as this) doesn't do crap to help the environment; in fact it harms it. Soldiers marching on, doing what they're told, management looking for the next big break or more money. Not to fault USFWS, most of our society is like this. We're all complicit. Meanwhile, the rain forest gets clear cut, 3rd world cities get crowded with unemployed youths, everyone reads the MSM and screams "Hurrah!", and colleagues say "he shouldn't have done this" thus damning the next generation who won't be afforded those opportunities.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by wollastoni »

Not sure to fully agree with you on that Chuck.

Yes, the CITES protection of common birdwings is ridiculous.
This said, we are not talking of one collector here caught with one birdwing in his collection...
We are talking of a SELLER who knows the law and decides to not respect it :
- putting at risk all his customers (in the past, some American collectors had their house raided by USFWS...). Even if USFWS find nothing bad in their collection, it is not a pleasure to see police coming to your home and take your collection for a check. This happened to a good friend of mine in the 90ies (in the USA).
- giving a very bad image to insect collectors. Mr Limmer knows the world we are living in, and OF COURSE the media will publicize this. Media have no clue that birdwings are common and what they see is a guy smuggling $200,000.00 of protected species (which seems to be a fact), so of course they will write about it, why not ?

All members of our community, especially important members like sellers, should try to protect our common image.
Not acting stupidly/naive and help destroy our reputation even more by smuggling CITES species or insulting USFWS online.
This kind of actions might trigger an insect collecting ban and insect trade ban.

US sellers/collectors should unite, create a small but efficient lobby and help US law makers taking better laws in the USA to protect insect and to protect amateur entomology.
I will give you an example from my country :
- a stupid law has been voted with a ban to collect more than 100 insects per year per person in French Guiana
- the French Lepidopterist Association and other important association made some meetings and wrote to FG authorities
- this law has been changed to 1000 specimens.
Without that move, all entomological lodges in FG would have disappeared and nobody would ever study FG butterflies anymore in the field.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Chuck »

Not to be pedantic, but he didn't smuggle $200k in protected species, he smuggled $200k in all species.

Yes, incidents like this paint all collectors in a bad light. And it's made worse by the media, which enhances (e.g., photos of alexandrae) false perceptions. As I've documented previously, NatGeo is also complicit in anti-collecting propaganda. In the end, it aligns the typically ignorant people against the activity.

The quote from an email demonstrating contempt for USFWS and the laws is also damning. We saw the same with the national park collecting bust. Looks very, very bad. Of course, remember that these quotes are always cherry picked; one could do the same with my criticism of USFWS, yet I hold no contempt for the organization, nor intent to violate laws, whether I believe in them or not.

It seems to have been a vendetta against USFWS, to continue on despite having the license yanked. Even more so when he surely must have known he was on their radar. Much like the Sovereign Citizen movement, it's really about telling government to shove it- which they will, but not where one thinks. Mr. Limmer's smug attitude, published on this site, indicates a level of arrogance and indignation that matches those who go unbalanced and start a one-man fight with government. People absolutely lose their minds, apparently.

I find it somewhat astonishing, some are so set on building a collection empire, or building an importing empire. Meanwhile, I'm soon taking another load of specimens off to the institution! Oddly enough (joke), MSN, Fox, and NatGeo aren't there to post pretty photos of actually rare species being donated. Sad state of affairs.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by kevinkk »

The sensationalism by the news is typical. I haven't seen anything about the case except for what's been posted here. It's the same old story though,
making mole hills into mountains. Same thing when I've run afoul of the law. The police reports and what gets in the newspaper make it sound like I had
40mm artillery ammo or a ton of weed.
Clearly Charles knew what he was doing, and antagonizing your adversaries is not a good idea. It does put collectors in a bad light, and that's the real
crime.
I find it a little ironic- Wasn't Charles's last post here about CITES documentation?
Interesting, Limmerleps still has ebay listings. So his inventory wasn't all confiscated? Not many USA sellers of Ornithoptera. Maybe his method
was why he has less expensive prices than other sellers.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by livingplanet3 »

Thanks to Chuck and everyone else for your input on this topic.

Note that Chuck presented a comprehensive, multi-post discussion of CITES in May of last year -

viewtopic.php?p=105#p105
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Chuck »

livingplanet3 wrote: Thu Oct 12, 2023 6:53 pm Thanks to Chuck and everyone else for your input on this topic.

Note that Chuck presented a comprehensive, multi-post discussion of CITES in May of last year -

viewtopic.php?p=105#p105

And, note the last comment made in the thread- rather prophetic:

"Well, Limmer must have some permits or proofs these are old pre-CITES specimens.
Otherwise he will soon be in the local newspaper ! :)
I don't know the guy but I can't see how an American, especially a dealer, would sell CITES specimens without permits on eBay... would be so stupid...
"
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by papiliotheona »

I could say a lot, but:

(1) What Mr. Limmer *allegedly* did is foolhardy in the extreme. It's common knowledge FWS has a hard-on for Ornithoptera in particular.
(2) The simple fact of the matter is that there is no way for an honest, law-abiding person to win here. Cites II theoretically provides a limited legal open door for some export of species listed therein, but in practice this paperwork is invariably only given out for "legitimate" biological research with a governmental organization or university. There's no "out" or proviso for recreational collecting. There was simply no way for Limmer to get these specimens legally, and that's a damn shame.
(3) USFWS is composed of fanatics who are ferociously opposed to *all* collecting, and they would gleefully ban it all today if they had the legal power to do so.
(4) Our Justice Dept. is by now infamous for its, shall we say, selective enforcement. Would they come down hard on BLM, Students for Justice in Palestine, or National Abortion Rights Action Network if one of those organizations were caught illegally importing/selling butterflies to fund their causes? I'll let you use your imagination on that one.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by papiliotheona »

One more note--a whole lot of countries have stricter collecting laws, than the US, on paper. Examples: most of Europe where all Papilionidae are blanket-listed; Mexico where all citizens need a SEMARNAT permit to collect even in their own backyards.

The difference is that enforcement is taken much more seriously in the US than those places.

Exceptions are places like India and Turkey, where all collecting is banned to *everyone* and they do mean business. Entomology is dead there even for local indigenous biologists. You WILL be arrested for keeping a single dead mosquito that you smack...
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Chuck »

papiliotheona wrote: Sat Oct 14, 2023 1:44 pm
Cites II theoretically provides a limited legal open door for some export of species listed therein, but in practice this paperwork is invariably only given out for "legitimate" biological research with a governmental organization or university. There's no "out" or proviso for recreational collecting.
To clarify, CITES II are regularly imported into USA. That, of course, requires legal export from the country of origin. USFWS doesn't have any problem clearing CITES II if they are legal to export and import.

There have been problems with the export of CITES II specimens; permitting sometimes flows with the wind of change. Cases in point:

1. When PNG fought against independence for Bougainville, they ceased permits to export from Bougainville. Not just CITES II, or just bugs, everything.

2. Indonesia changed their policy for export approval about 2005, from being approved at the regional level (e.g., Irian Jaya) to Jakarta. Duh, what better way for some petty bureaucrat in Jakarta to get paid off.

3. Solomon Islands for a long time the problem was on the US end. It's well documented in the archived forum what happened- a shake-down by some CITES bureaucrat whom they wouldn't bribe, so he got them delisted; that in turn got turned into US law as a signatory to CITES. CITES later rescinded this, though I've not heard that anyone in USA bothered to get the lawyers to remove the ban on Solomon Islands. I mean really, it would be that simple.

Of course, it's not that simple. I don't know how things currently stand, but wouldn't be surprised if you still have to provide corrupt money in Jakarta to get an export license, and I haven't asked the guys in Solomon Islands what the status is; I know they're ranching and farming Ornithoptera so it's not like there's no market or supply. That said, there ARE Ornithoptera on eBay right now from US suppliers.

Anytime one decides to deal with niche, highly controlled stuff there are going to be increased costs, increased risks, and surprises. Many elect to avoid the cost and hassle and "go direct." That may get you on the radar, and you don't want to be on government radar.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Chuck »

The question was asked of me if USFWS will go after Limmer's customers, or if USFWS has ever gone after buyers from retailers who sold unlawfully imported specimens.

I doubt they'll go after Limmer's clients, unless they have evidence (e.g., email) that the buyer knew the specimens weren't lawfully imported.

On the most extreme would be Yoshi's CITES I buyers. I knew several people who bought CITES II from Yoshi at the California insect shows; some said months later "I still don't have the import certificate Yoshi promised" (rather naiive, if you had figured out Yoshi), and others said "I got this from Yoshi, he said he has import paperwork wink-wink" implying they knew the specimen wasn't lawfully imported. I had not heard of any problems to Yoshi's CITES II buyers.

That said, there were rumors back then that USFWS was going after his CITES I buyers. But that's all I know; I don't know anyone that bought CITES I from him. Did anyone ever hear of USFWS chasing down Yoshi's clients' specimens?
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by kevinkk »

When I bought my Ornithoptera from Charles, he did claim that Cites information would be sent. It was not. I didn't pursue the issue. The chances
of anyone unwelcome getting into my house is slim, besides the nearly insurmountable task of tracking down all a seller's customers makes it
very unlikely the feds are going to go through ebay records to track down much of anything. Besides that. they would need warrants for
the records, and for egress into any residences. Seems like there are other things our customs should be concerned about.
Perhaps with other sellers and species, it may be different, depending on what was being traded.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Paul K »

I don’t know US but as far as CITES papers the permit is only needed when specimen is crossing a border.
One doesn’t need permit at all if specimen is acquired within Canada or I suppose inside other country too.
I don’t even have to ask or care if the specimen was legally or illegally imported as I don’t have to carry a paper with it. Beside the CITES office will not issue a permit if specimen is traded within the country.

Saying that I know USA is a totally different story with all ridiculous USFWS.
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Re: NY Man charged with smuggling birdwings

Post by Chuck »

So here's what happens when the butterfly trade makes the news:

It appears in the regional news. This looks bad and often gives politicians something to crow about: https://www.solomontimes.com/news/new-y ... ands/12792

Then, "advocates" see a chance for notoriety; claim there's no oversight and that smuggling wildlife is a grave concern: https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pac ... on-islands

Claiming that butterflies are origami gets people really riled up; they then believe everything they read.

Solomon Islands DNR does have export controls. They also have mail, just as we do, that's exploited for illegal trade in wildlife. Note though, illegal trade doesn't equal harm to wildlife- but now people think it's fact.

What does happen in cases like this, is there's a big clamor to suspend trade. Some Nature Conservancy bureaucrat benefits from it, politicians benefit from it. New laws are introduced where none are needed, since they already exist. Instead of increasing funding for Resources enforcement, it's just lawfully cut off, driving all trade to be illegal.

This means that the existing farmers and ranchers who rely on this recurring income have to go illegal- or find another source of income. That source of income in Solomon Islands is logging, always logging. And logging is where the true threat lies.

Such a simple thing- a couple common butterflies and "origami". In the short term at least, it's only going to have a negative impact on ecology and people's lives.
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