LOS ANGELES – A Japanese man was arrested Monday at Los Angeles International Airport on federal charges of trafficking numerous endangered butterfly species protected by global treaties.
Hisayoshi Kojima, 55, of Kyoto, was arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials after arriving from Japan with several dried specimens, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns said.
The arrest follows an extensive three-year undercover investigation into allegations Kojima purchased hundreds of rare and endangered butterflies from Europe and smuggled them to collectors in the United States.
Customers allegedly paid Kojima $8,000 to $10,000 for male and female pairs and individual butterfly specimens protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Kojima allegedly used the U.S. Post Office’s international service to mail the butterflies. He declared the dead butterflies as gifts, sometimes worth as little as $30.
Kojima was charged with seven misdemeanor and seven endangered species misdemeanor counts, and 10 counts of felony smuggling. He is scheduled to be arraigned in a U.S. District Court on Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles.
Kojima could be facing a sentence of 2 1/2 to five years in federal prison, according to the U.S. attorney.
During the U.S. government investigation, Kojima told undercover agents he could sell them $300,000 worth of butterfly specimens and claimed his inventory in Kyoto totaled substantially more, Johns said.
Johns said U.S. officials have passed information on Kojima’s collection to Japanese authorities.
“We hope Japanese wildlife officials will conduct a search of his home,” he said.
The U.S. government may also seek Kojima’s cooperation with other investigations by naming the individuals who purchased butterfly specimens from him via sophisticated Internet sites.
According to Johns, Kojima has traveled to Los Angeles for insect conventions and is a known figure among serious butterfly collectors.
Among the species Kojima is accused of smuggling are some of the world’s largest, most striking butterflies, like the vivid black and gold Queen Alexandra’s Birdwings, and the brightly colored Giant Swallowtail.
The insects are believed to have been collected illegally from Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Latin America and elsewhere.
According to U.S. estimates, the international illegal wildlife trade generates between $6 billion and $10 billion annually.
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