Nevada man sentenced for trafficking in endangered species

African Lion

RENO, Nev. (AP) —A 51-year-old Nevada man who admitted illegally trafficking endangered African lion and leopard parts has been ordered to serve a total of 60 days in federal custody and complete 100 hours of community service for a wildlife conservation group.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones sentenced Robert Barkman of Reno on Wednesday immediately after he pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal to one count of wildlife trafficking in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Federal prosecutors say Barkman admitted selling and shipping a lion skull and leopard claws in 2016 to a New York City man who was sentenced in August 2018 to nine months in prison for exporting scores of protected animal parts to Thailand.

“This investigation involved the international trafficking of the skulls, teeth and claws from protected African lions and tigers and depicts just how appalling and widespread wildlife trafficking can be,” said Edward Grace, assistant director of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The service conducted the investigation along with the U.S. attorney’s office in Nevada and the U.S. Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.

Barkman admitted he was paid $1,400 for the sale that led to the charges filed against him in October 2019. He acknowledged he received a total of about $6,000 in 2016 for the interstate sale of threatened or endangered wildlife, including a spotted cat pelt and a tooth pendant, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Reno.

In exchange for his guilty plea to a lone misdemeanor count, the government agreed to drop a felony count of aiding and abetting that would have carried much stiffer punishment.

Jones sentenced Barkman to a year’s probation in addition to 60 days of intermittent confinement that he can serve on nights or weekends or under other intervals agreed to by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Barkman also agreed to forfeit all guns, traps, nets, vehicles and other equipment used to aid in his violation of the law. He’s prohibited from performing the public service with a conservation organization that handles threatened or endangered species.

The New York man, Arongkron “Paul” Malasukum, earlier admitted exporting 68 packages to Thailand with skulls, claws and other parts of endangered and protected species in 2015 and 2016. That included more than $150,000 worth of parts from lions and tigers.

Malasukum acknowledged buying a tiger skull from undercover agents working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, prosecutors said. He also acknowledged purchasing lion skulls from an auction house in Texas.