SALT LAKE CITY — A Midvale businessman and his taxidermy art business are accused of wildlife trafficking and violating two federal laws, according to an indictment filed in Utah's U.S. District Court Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors accuse Jean Michel Arrigona, 58, and his business, Natur, Inc., of violating the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act. They allege that over a span of five years, Arrigona imported hundreds of wildlife items, including some species protected under an international treaty, without declaring the items to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or customs agents before illegally selling the items.
According to a news release from the Department of Justice, the indictment is the result of an investigation conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement under a program called Operation Global Reach. None of the animals imported were alive.
The indictment alleges that beginning around December 2015, Arrigona purchased the skeletons of two turtles, two frogs/toads and one bat and "knowingly" imported the items "in a manner unlawful under any law, regulation and treaty of the United States, specifically the Endangered Species Act" and the Lacey Act.
The Lacey Act, which was created in 1900 and is the country's oldest wildlife protection law, prohibits anyone from knowingly importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing wildlife that's in violation of a U.S. law, treaty or regulation.
The document alleges Arrigona also violated the Lacey Act in 2016, regarding the purchases of four lizards or gecko skulls. The document then lists eight instances from Nov. 6, 2015, through Sept. 16, 2020, in which wildlife items were imported without any declaration to federal officials. Most items were bats, lizards, starfish, mollusks or insects.
Department of Justice officials said Arrigona was involved in illegally importing about 460 wildlife items during that time — primarily from Indonesia. The items included flying fox and monitor lizard skulls, which officials said are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The U.S. is one of 183 countries that abide by that treaty.
Federal court records show that an initial court appearance in the case is set for Dec. 17. The record did not list a legal representative for Arrigona or Natur. KSL.com reached out to the business for comment Thursday morning but did not receive a response at publication time.
Natur sells wildlife in the form of taxidermy mounts, bone and skeleton art. In 2013, Arrigona told KSL TV that his items typically sold anywhere between $7 and $1,800.