Exotic Animal Trader Sentenced To Prison
11/15/2002 11:12:41 PM
One of the 15 suspects busted in a Midwest exotic animal ring was sentenced Friday in St. Louis federal court.
A Newschannel 5 investigation exposed the killing and butchering of endangered animals earlier this month. It's a multi-billion dollar black market business with roots in Missouri.
Friday, Stoney Ray Elam, the former operator of a Ft. Gibson Oklahoma exotic animal farm, was sentenced to one year with the bureau of prisons. The last six months of his sentence will include home detention with electronic monitoring.
Elam pleaded guilty to illegally selling two federally protected tigers and three leopards and falsifying federal documents to list the sale as a donation. Elam was busted after selling the five animals to undercover agents at a New Florence Missouri truck stop.
The judge also ordered Elam to pay 5000 dollars to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife "Save the Tiger" Fund.
The Endangered Animal Trade
11/1/2002 5:50:02 PM
By Leisa Zigman
(KSDK) -- Missouri has become a major player in a gruesome industry
that preys on endangered animals. Federal agents say next to the drug
trade, the illegal killing of exotic animals is the second most profitable
business in the world.
Recently NewsChannel 5 learned that Missouri is now a black-market
hub where some breeders and brokers are making a killing; literally.
Members of a secret Midwest exotic animal ring with roots in Cape
Girardeau had chilling plans for some federally protected endangered
tigers. According to Federal officials they were going to shoot, butcher,
and sell their hides, their body parts, and their meat. Why? Because
these majestic animals, are worth a lot more dead, than alive.
Bill Hartwig is the Regional Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife. He says
many endangered tigers are purchased to be killed and made into rugs.
It's a billion dollar black market business, and it's led federal agents to
Missouri as part of a multi-state sting.
"Animals from Florida, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, were sent to Missouri,
to Cape Girardeau, and were killed, butchered, and shipped to Chicago,"
In February, Todd and Vicky Lantz of Cape Girardeau pleaded guilty to
their roles in the exotic animal trade.
Tim Santel, an investigator with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said, "We find the
illegal animal trade is nationwide, worldwide. The fact that it happened in
Cape Girardeau doesn't surprise me at all."
Tiger hides sell for up to $25,000 dollars a piece. If the big cats weren't
butchered for their pelts, meat, bones, and organs, collectors would pay
thousands to stuff and display them as trophies.
A government informant, who will remain anonymous said, "The person
who supplied the biggest check, got to keep the animal and of course,
they would shoot the animal usually in a caged situation."
Federal prosecutors said the tigers often came through Missouri, en
route to Chicago where collectors paid thousands of dollars to shoot
caged endangered animals. Federal prosecutors say Doctor Robert
Martinez, of Chicago, paid $7000 to shoot an endangered black
spotted leopard while it was still caged.
Hartwig said, "It was a painful situation for them and anyone who has a
conscience to be able to watch."
In August, Steven Galecki of Chicago pleaded guilty to selling and
slaughtering numerous tigers and leopards. When federal authorities
busted Galecki, they confiscated all of his paper work. One of the names
led agents to Warrenton, Missouri, and the Wesa A Geh Ya Sanctuary,
run by Ken and Sandy Smith.
The Smiths admit to selling Galecki two lions, a cougar and a dead tiger
in the mid 90's. Those actions are legal, but they were in direct contrast to
the mission of her animal sanctuary.
"I truly thought, I believed it in my heart at the time, he had right intentions,"
said Sandy Smith.
The Smiths say they used to breed and sell animals but stopped in 1998,
when Wesa A Geh Ya became a not-for-profit sanctuary .
"When I started a year ago this last August, there were 52 animals, and
when I left there were well over 70, and a lot of them were cubs," said Pat
Bohler, a former Wesa A Geh Ya board member.
Bohler and the other former Wesa a Geh Ya board members, volunteers,
and employees, all say the Smiths are not only breeding exotic animals
but soliciting charitable donations.
"Each animal has a story, and each story is a tear jerker, and the more
people cried the more money you're going to get," said Beth Norman,
former grant director for the sanctuary.
Former board members say they repeatedly urged the Smiths to quit
breeding, but the Smiths say they¹re against spaying and neutering.
Former volunteers say there have been several recent deaths at the
sanctuary including Zander, a four-month lion cub. His cause of death has
not been established.
Former board members and employees believe the Smiths need to be
investigated and the sanctuary closed. However, the USDA just renewed
the smith's license and the couple insists they have no part in a Midwestern
black market ring.
Nationwide 12,000 tigers are in private hands and more are born every
day. Federal agents asked us not to reveal where the rescued tigers and
leopards are located. We can tell you, it is within the NewsChannel 5
Today, Dr. Martinez pleaded guilty to killing an endangered animal. He
faces five years in prison and $250,000 dollars in fines.
If you have information about the exotic animal trade that you would like
to report, contact us fish and wildlife call 612-713-5320 or online at
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
Sign our petition to protect tigers from being farmed here:
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