By Masako Melissa Hirsch, Randy Lee Loftis
The Arlington exotic-pet dealer who made international headlines as the center of the country’s biggest animal-cruelty case has made a $15,000 plea deal with federal prosecutors.
The agreement has infuriated several animal welfare organizations that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to take care of the animals seized from the dealer’s company more than four years ago.
Jasen B. Shaw, former owner of U.S. Global Exotics, pleaded guilty June 4 to one misdemeanor violation under the Lacey Act, the federal law that prohibits the illegal trade of wildlife.
The misdemeanor charge involved false labeling for a shipment of 50 hedgehogs to Japan. As part of the plea deal, federal prosecutors in North Texas will not bring any other charges against him in federal court.
“The message that’s sent back out is that if you’re in the business of selling animals, the federal government really doesn’t care if you abuse animals,” said James Bias, president of the SPCA of Texas.
Shaw’s attorney, Lance T. Evans of Fort Worth, said Thursday that the agreement was fair to both Shaw and the government.
“In my opinion, the forfeiture action taken by the city of Arlington amounted to an unconstitutional seizure of private property and was an example of government overreaching,” he said in an email.
The U.S. attorney’s office said it wouldn’t comment on the details of the plea agreement because negotiations aren’t public.
The city of Arlington’s Animal Services took more than 26,000 animals from U.S. Global Exotics in December 2009 after an investigator for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals went undercover as a worker for seven months to expose conditions at the facility in the 1000 block of Oakmead Drive.
During the seizure, officials described finding dead animals mixed in with live ones, as well as others that were starving. In all, they took about 500 different species of amphibians, reptiles and small mammals such as anteaters, chinchillas and hedgehogs.
The company later shut down. Federal officials issued an arrest warrant for Shaw in February 2010. Shaw left for his native New Zealand, which led officials to brand him a fugitive.
Meanwhile, several organizations took over the care of the animals found at the company. They brought in experts from around the country and Great Britain to ensure their correct care.
The SPCA of Texas spent about $360,000 to house and care for the animals, Bias said — 24 times what Shaw paid in his deal. That included food, extra work by employees and modifying their building to accommodate the animals.
PETA also spent about $300,000 caring for the animals, said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA’s senior vice president of cruelty investigations.
While it was open, U.S. Global Exotics was a multimillion-dollar business. It imported animals from around the world and sold them in the U.S. and to buyers in other countries.
With that kind of money, Shaw’s penalty amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist, Nachminovitch said. She said she had hoped Shaw would be prevented from working in the industry again.
As a result of the plea agreement, prosecutors no longer consider Shaw a fugitive, said attorney general’s office spokeswoman Kathy Colvin. The agreement doesn’t address Shaw’s ability to work again with animals.
Evans, Shaw’s attorney, said the public doesn’t realize how much the case has affected Shaw and his family. He lost his livelihood, he and his family were uprooted from their Dallas-area home, and the stress from the case contributed to the breakup of his marriage, Evans said.
“There is not a day that goes by that the aftereffects of this episode are not felt by all of them,” Evans said.
Nachminovitch said the deal doesn’t come close to the penalties in other Lacey Act cases.
In 2012, a federal judge sentenced Atsushi Yamagami of Japan to 21 months in prison and an $18,403 fine for smuggling 55 live turtles and tortoises into the U.S. In another case, a federal judge in East Texas sentenced Loren Willis of West Palm Beach, Fla., to nine months in prison in 2012 for harvesting alligator gar from the Trinity River with the purpose of selling them in Japan.
Shaw’s case, Nachminovitch said, “really could have been something more significant in the big picture of the illegal-pet trade.”