Hawaii gift store owner gets 6 months for wildlife smuggling

The owner of a Hawaii jewelry and gift retail business was sentenced Monday to six months in federal prison for smuggling Alaska ivory to the Philippines, where items were carved into fish hooks then shipped back and passed off as made in Hawaii by local artisans.

Curtis Wilmington pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in March. Authorities say Wilmington purchased raw walrus tusks and whale teeth from an undercover agent from Alaska and smuggled black coral from Mexico to Hawaii. The items have federal protections that require declaration, permitting and licensing for exporting or importing.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright also sentenced Wilmington to three years of supervised release and a $40,000 fine. Seabright sentenced Wilmington's corporation, Hawaiian Accessories, Inc., to pay a $50,000 fine and to five years of court supervision.

"I feel very remorseful," Wilmington said, telling the judge he knew what he did was wrong, but didn't know the consequences. He "stepped over the line," in cutting corners for products he described as "gifts of aloha."

According to court documents, Wilmington and others in his company removed the "made in the Philippines" labels once the ivory returned to Hawaii as fish hooks.

Undercover agents purchased the fish hook pendants at a Waikiki hotel boutique and at the Merrie Monarch hula festival in Hilo, Hawaii. The fish hooks sold for about $250 each, authorities said.

Defense attorney Richard Hoke said Curtis Wilmington was dealing with mental health issues at the time at the time of conspiracy and has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He added that many people depend on Wilmington, including his 96-year-old mother.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Johnson said Wilmington's mother will be well-cared for, partly because of his "substantial asset base."

Animal rights organizations say Hawaii has the third-largest ivory market in the nation, and it could become the largest if left unregulated.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige recently signed a bill into law banning the sale of wildlife parts including elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn and shark parts, making exceptions for family heirlooms, Native Hawaiian cultural practices protected by the state Constitution and other circumstances.


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