I’ve written extensively here about the drama surrounding George Norris and Manuel Arias Silva’s troubles with the law. Both are elderly and in ill health, and from what I can gather from those “in the know”, they are not big bad orchid smugglers guilty of stripping the wild of rare orchids species, but victims of a complicated web of petty politics, egos, and treachery. Oh, and of their own frustration with nonsensical CITES laws. Apparently, the orchids they “smuggled” were not rare, and were removed from the list of prohibited trade species after their shenanigans. The question remains as to whether the plants in question were collected from the wild, or cultivated at Jose’s nursery in Peru.
Orchid smuggler from Spring gets prison time
03:17 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 27, 2004
MIAMI — A prominent Peruvian orchid grower was sentenced Tuesday to almost two years in federal prison for scheming to smuggle prized tropical lady slipper orchids into the United States.
Manuel Arias Silva will spend one year and nine months in prison for shipping internationally protected wild orchids intermingled with nursery-raised flowers to a Texas dealer several times to feed the desires of high-end hobbyists from 1999 to last year.
U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz sentenced Arias to the low end of the federal guidelines on his guilty plea to two counts. He admitted shipping 2,050 orchids, including the endangered Phragmipedium species, worth $45,500 from Peru through Miami to suburban Houston.
“Judge Seitz did the best and the fairest she could under the circumstances,” said defense attorney Peter Raben.
The dealer, George W. Norris of Spring, Texas, also has pleaded guilty and faces sentencing Sept. 2. The investigation was based on a tip about Norris offering endangered species for sale on the Internet.
Norris instructed Arias to ship through South Florida because U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors at Miami International Airport were more lax than their counterparts in Houston, according to papers and e-mails seized in the investigation.
Arias, 70, was one of three Peruvian growers with permission to cultivate endangered and newly discovered orchids from recently deforested areas. He apologized in a letter to the judge asking for mercy and noting his “sincere” conservation efforts.
The Peruvian lady slippers, known as “phrags” in collecting circles, are considered seriously endangered in the wild and are protected by international treaty. Nursery-raised varieties can be exported with government permits.
This post contains an interesting quote from someone who personally knows the Manuel Arias Silva. She says that he is an honourable gentleman, 70 years old and in extremely ill health, who could not speak the language and had a wife at home in Peru who had just undergone a serious operation. Given the situation, he was anxious to plead guilty to whatever the authorities wanted, just to get back home. He has not returned to the U.S., so it will be interesting to see whether the U.S. tries to extradite him and force him to serve his jail term.