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El Paso Man Pleads Guilty to Role in Scheme to Sell Protected Cacti
Pecos, Texas
   
 
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In Pecos today, 47-year-old Harry George Bock, II, pleaded guilty to his role in a scheme to illegally sell protected living rock cactus plants, announced U.S. Attorney John F. Bash; Phillip Land, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Office of Law Enforcement of the Southwest Region; and, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Special Agent in Charge Erik P. Breitzke, El Paso Division.

Appearing before U.S Magistrate Judge David Fannin, Bock pleaded guilty to one count of mislabeled exports.  According to court records, from May 2017 to August 2018, Bock conspired with others in a scheme whereby they submitted false identification of actual living rock cacti (Ariocarpus fissuratus), a protected species, with the intent to export and sell the plants for financial gain.  On May 14, 2018, 41 living rock cacti shipped by Bock were seized by authorities at the International Mail Facility in Chicago, IL.

In 2012, Texas-based FWS Special Agents uncovered a substantial trafficking organization smuggling thousands of protected living rock cactus from the Big Bend region of Western Texas.  Cooperative investigative work led to the execution of six residential search warrants served mostly in remote areas of far southwest Texas where the living rock cacti naturally occur.  The living rock cacti were advertised through internet sales and mostly consummated with end purchasers from Europe and Asia.  Several parcels containing the live cacti were intercepted at international mail facilities and were found to be falsely labeled which substantiated felony charges to the sellers.

“When you mess with protected Texas cacti, you’re messing with Texas. My office will continue to work with our law-enforcement partners to protect our State’s natural heritage,” stated U.S. Attorney Bash.

The living rock cacti are afforded protection through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and listed as Appendix I protected plant species that prohibit foreign commerce.  The CITES Appendix I listing categories the species as threatened with extinction and limits international movements to scientific research and zoological display. 

Bock remains on bond pending formal sentencing.  No sentencing date has been scheduled. Five other individuals have been prosecuted and sentenced in relation to this scheme.

“Breaking up international and domestic smuggling rings that target imperiled plants and animals is an important part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s work,” said FWS Special Agent in Charge Land.  “This case demonstrates how cooperation between enforcement agencies can achieve strong results. We thank our partners at the National Park Service, Department of Homeland Security, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the U.S. Postal Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their help with this case.”

“Individuals who deal in protected native plants are not only doing damage to the environment, but they are stealing from the American people,” said HSI Acting Special Agent in Charge Breitzke. “HSI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute these criminals to ensure the protection of these West Texas natural treasures.”

Thousands of live cacti seized by law enforcement during this investigation were cared for and donated to non-profit entities through assistance from the Sul Ross State University.  

Assistant U.S. Attorney James J. Miller, Jr., is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

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