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Alaskans accused of trading for walrus ivory, polar bear hides plead guilty to federal charges

Posted: July 16, 2011 - 11:39pm

ANCHORAGE — Two men accused of participating in a walrus ivory and polar bear hide trading ring have pleaded guilty to breaking federal marine mammal laws, and a third person is expected to plead guilty on Tuesday.

Federal agents found hundreds of pounds of walrus tusks and two polar bear hides when they searched the home of Jesse James LeBoeuf and his companion, Loretta Sternbach, in April, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

LeBoeuf and Sternbach were accused of trading cigarettes, guns, snowmachines and other items to Natives in the village of Savoonga in exchange for federally protected animal parts. Co-conspirator Richard Weshenfelder marketed the tusks and hides on the Internet and helped sell the parts to out-of-state buyers, a federal indictment said.

LeBoeuf and Sternbach also illegally sold and transported walrus parts and tusks to out-of-state buyers, the indictment said.

By law, only Natives living on the Alaska coast can hunt the mammals, and they can’t sell the raw ivory to private collectors.

Authorities believe the trading was done in two trips to Savoonga on Saint Lawrence Island, which lies in the Bering Strait between mainland Alaska and Russia. LeBoeuf and Sternbach live in Glennallen, about 180 miles northeast of Anchorage.

Weshenfelder, of Anchorage, and LeBoeuf pleaded guilty on Friday. Sternbach is set to enter a guilty plea on Tuesday.

“Sir, I just did what I did to get along in life,” LeBoeuf told U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess

Prosecutors are seeking a nine-year sentence for LeBoeuf and a five-year sentence for Weshenfelder. All three defendants are expected to be sentenced in November.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Yvonne Lamoureux declined to comment on the possibility of charges for the ivory suppliers.

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