At a news conference Thursday, U.S. Attorney Tim Burgess announced the indictment
of seven people connected with the illegal killing of black bears and the illegal
harvesting or sale of black bear parts. He said 14 bears were killed in two
The five suspects, all from Anchorage, were involved in two apparently unrelated
conspiracies that resulted in at least 14 black bears being taken in 2002 and
2003, federal authorities said.
Federal and state law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, are investigating other
poaching cases involving as many as 50 other black bears in the state, according
to U.S. Attorney Timothy Burgess.
Burgess and other officials Thursday declined to give any details about those
other 50 bears and who might be under investigation.
The current charges represent, to date, the largest known illegal kill of black
bears in Alaska for the purpose of marketing their gallbladders, officials said.
In the first of two indictments filed in U.S. District Court, Kwan Su Yi, 32;
Tae Won Ro, 33; and James H. Moon, 26, were each charged with conspiracy, attempted
export and sale of illegally taken wildlife, and making false statements in violation
of the federal Lacey Act.
The indictment charges them with snaring and dismembering 10 black bears in Prince
William Sound in the summer and fall of 2002. It says gallbladders stored in
the freezer of one of the defendants, Yi, were to be sent to Korea.
In the second indictment, Chi Ung Kim, 82, and Kil Young Chu, 69, were each charged
with conspiracy and sale of illegally taken wildlife. The indictment says the
pair snared and shot four bears on the Kenai Peninsula from May to June 2003.
maximum penalties for each of the five men are five years in prison, a $250,000
fine and three years of probation, according to Burgess.
Two other people, including an air taxi operator, were charged in separate
cases Thursday with misdemeanor offenses related to the killing of black bears
and the export of their parts.
Dehydrated bear bile is believed by some people in China, Korea and Japan to
have medicinal value. Gallbladders can bring from $500 to $4,000 each and have
been sold for as much as $20,000, said Stan Pruszenski, special agent in charge
of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.
The gallbladders are part of a worldwide trade in illegal wildlife of nearly
$5 billion, Burgess said.
With Asian bear populations in decline and poaching for black bear parts going
strong in the Lower 48, wildlife enforcement agencies believed it was only
a matter of time before Alaska's bears were exploited on a large scale.
"It's sad," said Cam Tooey, the special assistant for Gail Norton, the U.S. secretary
of the interior. "This is a systematic and targeted poaching operation in Alaska,
where previously nothing of this magnitude had existed."
Statewide, Alaska's black bear population is healthy, officials said. The danger,
said Pruszenski of the Fish and Wildlife Service, is that poachers can make
a significant impact in a small area -- a particular drainage, for example,
Ro, Yi and Moon, those named in the first indictment, are said to have taken
10 bears on privately owned Chenega Island and at Bainbridge Passage, part
of Chugach National Forest.
Ro and Yi would motor out from Whittier in a new 22-foot Hewescraft and set
snares that would trap bears in nooses of one-eighth-inch aircraft cable hanging
from trees. They and Moon later would visit the sites, the indictment charges, "then
remove the legs, heads and gallbladders" from the bears.
In mid-September 2002, biologists doing stream surveys happened on a bear caught
in a snare. The bear was still alive and bolted, snapping the cable and running
off. The biologists eventually landed their plane next to the Hewescraft and
summoned Alaska State Troopers, who found a cooler full of bear parts.
The second indictment charges Kim and Chu with flying from Homer to Swan Lake
in Chugach National Forest in May 2003, and from Anchorage to Big Indian Creek
in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in June to illegally kill bears.
The men smeared "substantial quantities of grease on trees and along game trails" to
lure the bears to the wire snares they set, the indictment charges. When they
visited the snares days later, they shot the bears, removed the valuable parts
and buried the carcasses, it says.
The discovery of a carcass by hikers led eventually to the two men, according
to assistant U.S. attorney Steve Skrocki, who declined to be more specific.
To get the best possible price for gallbladders, the sellers must authenticate
that the parts come from wild animals, Pruszinski said. Investigators, however,
refused to discuss the evidence in the cases and whether the alleged poachers
took videos or still photographs of the animals caught in the snares.
In both cases, the men broke Alaska hunting laws. Violation of state hunting
laws is a prerequisite for being charged under the federal law, Skrocki said.
The Hewescraft, a rifle and a handgun in the first case and two rifles in the
second will be forfeited to the federal government if the men are convicted.
The others charged Thursday are Timothy John Karlovich, 51, and Thomas Ling
Ming Cha, 69, both of Anchorage.
Karlovich, owner and operator of JayHawk Air, was charged with conducting a
commercial enterprise on national wildlife refuge land without a permit and
with general trespass. He is said to have flown Kim and Chu to their snares
on at least once occasion.
Cha was charged with transporting black bear gallbladders from South Dakota
and Colorado for sale in Alaska between October 1999 and August 2001, in violation
of the Lacey Act, the U.S. attorney said.
As of Thursday afternoon, none of the suspects had been served with court summonses,
according to Skrocki.
Yi had no comment on the charges. Other defendants could not be reached for
comment. Karlovich said Thursday night that investigators had indicated he
would not be charged.
"I've been assisting in the investigation and providing them with information," Karlovich
said. "I'm a little bit dismayed."
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Daily News reporter
Peter Porco can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4582.