A Conway man faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty this week in federal court to importing and possessing illegally taken wildlife.
Jackson Roe, 27, pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. to smuggling animals, including endangered amphibians and reptiles, into the United States, through a Chinese dealer he met on Facebook.
On Dec. 4, 2019, Roe was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of smuggling federally endangered animals into the United States and two counts of importation and possession of illegally taken wildlife. On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to one count of importation and possession of illegally taken wildlife in exchange for the U.S. attorney's office agreement to move for dismissal of the remaining counts.
In the plea agreement, Roe admitted to knowingly importing, possessing and selling wildlife with a market value in excess of $350 that were illegally imported into the country in violation of federal law.
According to court documents, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an investigation in 2015 after receiving detailed information from a reptile enthusiast who reported being approached on Facebook by someone wanting to sell and transport various reptiles into and out of the country, in violation of U.S. and foreign laws.
The enthusiast provided wildlife officials with information from the Facebook account of a man who lived in Shanghai who had offered to sell various species of snakes, according to a criminal complaint, which detailed how agents monitored the Shanghai man's Facebook activity for several months. During that time agents observed photos posted by the man of different species of amphibians and reptiles that appeared to be in captivity.
Agents learned through a search warrant on the Shanghai man's Facebook account that he was shipping rare and endangered animals to various buyers, including Roe. Wildlife inspectors intercepted a package addressed to Roe that contained two live Chinese giant salamanders in plastic jars, with wet moss, no holes in the containers for air and no documentation.
In August 2017, federal fish and wildlife agents executed a search warrant at the Conway home of Roe's parents where they seized two live turtles, one frozen turtle and shipping materials.
When agents later interviewed Roe at his home, he admitted to possessing several endangered species that had been smuggled into the country, telling agents that he bought the animals over Face-book from a dealer in China. According to the summary of facts, Roe admitted that he had purchased six Chinese giant salamanders for $450 each. Chinese giant salamanders are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Roe said he also had bought one Vietnamese leaf turtle, one Indian roofed turtle and a Chinese big-headed turtle, which he planned to sell.
At Roe's home, agents seized three Chinese giant salamanders and a Chinese big-headed turtle along with some shipping materials. During the interview, the summary said, Roe disclosed that he also had a Nile crocodile, a Morelet's crocodile, and an American alligator, all of which were living in the garage at his parents' home.
Arkansas Game and Fish agents seized the reptiles later that day, the news release said.
Two years later, in November 2019, after receiving information from a Conway pet shop owner that Roe was again in possession of Chinese giant salamanders, agents searched Roe's home a second time and found, among other animals, six Chinese giant salamanders, two of which were alive and four dead.
Roe admitted to having bought the animals within the previous two years from China.
After accepting Roe's plea, Marshall ordered him taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service to await sentencing. The judge scheduled Roe's sentencing hearing for 9 a.m. July 8.
Information for this story was contributed by Linda Satter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.