3 charged with illegal wildlife trafficking in Alaska plead guilty

ANCHORAGE — Three Alaskans charged in federal court with illegal wildlife trafficking are planning to change their pleas to guilty.

The planned pleas by 46-year-old Jesse Joseph Leboeuf, his companion 52-year-old Loretta Audrey Sternbach and 50-year-old Richard Blake Weshenfelder forestall a trial that was set to begin this week, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The three are accused of trading cigarettes, guns, bullets and snowmobiles to St. Lawrence Island residents for walrus tusks and polar bear hides in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The allegations cover the time period from July 2010 through March, before the April arrests by federal agents.

Leboeuf and Sternbach, of Glennallen, and Weshenfelder, of Anchorage, say in notices filed in U.S. District Court last week that they intend to plead guilty.

Weshenfelder is accused of helping the couple market their ivory on the Internet from July to October 2010.

Leboeuf, who was convicted of theft in Washington state in 1982, also was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, and he and Sternbach also were accused of possessing two unlicensed machine guns and of possessing a kit to convert a pistol to an illegal automatic weapon.

Leboeuf, facing a 15-count indictment, said he plans to plead guilty to three counts of illegal wildlife trafficking and two counts involving weapons. Weshenfelder said he would plead to one conspiracy count. Sternbach, named in 13 of the counts, did not say what counts she would plead guilty to.

The Daily News said the defendants were accused of bartering with Alaska Natives in Savoonga who are granted aboriginal rights under the law to hunt the animals and possess the parts for subsistence and crafts.

Leboeuf is not Native and Sternbach, who is Native, falsely claimed she owned the animal parts, according to the indictment.

None of the Savoona residents has been charged.

Weshenfelder and Leboeuf are scheduled to enter their pleas on Friday. A hearing for Sternbach is set for July 18.


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