Texas man pleaded guilty in cacti smuggling case


EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A man pleaded guilty in connection with a West Texas ring that smuggled rare living rock cacti, a plant that wildlife officials say is a protected species.

Harry George Bock II of El Paso pleaded guilty Tuesday before a U.S. magistrate judge in Pecos to one count of mislabeling exports in a scheme to ship cacti overseas, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas said.

The living rock cactus is only found in the Big Bend region, federal wildlife officials said. The small plant does not have any thorns and is soft and plushy.

In 2018, the government seized Bock’s shipment of 41 cacti at an international mail facility in Chicago, the El Paso Times reported.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Bock faces three years of probation, $7,200 in restitution as part of a plea agreement.

“When you mess with protected Texas cacti, you’re messing with Texas,” U.S. Attorney John F. Bash said in a statement.

While awaiting a sentencing date, Bock is free on bond. But five other people have already been sentenced in connection with the scheme. One of them is William Howard Gornto II, 60, who was sentenced in May for felony charges. The Fort Davis man will be on probation for three years and has been ordered to pay $10,800 restitution, according to U.S. wildlife officials.

The men were accused of violating the Lacey Act of 1900 that makes it a felony to sell or purchase protected wildlife and plants.

The men advertised the plants on the internet for collectors in Asia and Europe, according to authorities.

The investigation began in 2012. But it is still unknown how many plants were smuggled, but about 4,000 plants were seized by the authorities, wildlife officials said in a release.

“Those who came before us knew the importance of protecting wildlife from unlawful trade, and this law continues to stay relevant each time a poacher or wild plant smuggler is charged,” Amy Lueders, U.S. Wildlife Service’s Southwest region director, said in a statement.