Montreal woman sentenced in U.S. for protected wildlife trafficking

A 27-year-old Montrealer has been sentenced in New York State following her conviction for “trafficking in protected wildlife”, according to the US Attorney’s Office.

Vanessa Rondeau was sentenced to time served and one year of supervised release by a judge for the Western District of New York, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Department of Justice.

She was also ordered to pay restitution of $1,364 and a criminal fine of $40,000.

Rondeau was first arrested in May 2021 after attempting to cross the US border into Canada at Highgate Springs, Vermont, with “numerous undeclared wild objects”, including a three-toed sloth, 18 skulls and crocodile heads and seven crocodile feet, according to documents filed in Vermont federal court.

All wild animals must be declared to the Fish and Wildlife Service when imported into the United States and prior to export from this country, under the Endangered Species Act.

Rondeau, the owner of The Old Cavern Boutique in Montreal, was also accused at the time of being in possession of two horseshoe crabs, 30 starfish, 23 raccoon legs, eight African antelope horns, a human skull” with mounted butterflies”, four puffer fish and six shark jaws.

The woman’s attempt to cross the border in 2021 was not her first transgression.

She made the trip 18 times between November 2018 and September 2019, mostly at the Champlain, NY, port of entry, including a dozen times between midnight and 2 a.m., according to Ryan Bessey, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent. Service, who worked undercover on the case.

After Bessey began communicating with Rondeau online in January 2020, the woman agreed to sell him a polar bear skull for $780.

To get it to him, she entered the United States at the Champlain, NY border crossing with the skull in her possession – a violation of the Endangered Species Act, then shipped it to him at Amherst NY.

The undercover agent received the package, then Rondeau agreed online to sell him another polar bear skull for $584.11.

This time, she sent it using Canada Post and labeled the package as containing “1 Cadre, which is the French word for cadre,” the statement said.

The United States Attorney’s Office estimated the monetary value of all protected wildlife Rondeau shipped or brought across the border to a total of approximately $37,204.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service also intercepted packages containing bird, weasel, bat skulls and the skin of a Hartmann’s zebra, another protected species, an affidavit says.

Environment and Climate Change Canada also participated in the survey.

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