Phrag. Kovachii Mop-Up News

Finally, the last of the mopping up of the Phragmipedium Kovachii debacle. Last January I reported that Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and its top horticulturalist, Wesley Higgins (head of the orchid identification center) had to take their licks for their role in smuggling a specimen of this new discovery into the U.S. to be identified. The government of Peru and former Selby employee Eric Christenson, were already in the process of identifying what’s been described as the greatest orchid discovery of the last 100 years. But Selby beat them to it, thereby pissing off a lot of people.

Michael Kovachs actually got off fairly lightly, with two year’s probation and a $1,000 fine.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Merryday, of Tampa, told Kovach, of Goldvein, Va., he narrowly escaped doing prison time.

"I’m resolving some doubts in your favor owing to your status as a
first offender," Merryday said. "But some of your explanations here are
very nearly, ‘The dog ate my homework.’"

Sadly, George Norris — who got caught in the crossfire — did get prison time. Rabid U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials, on the hunt for illegal importers of Phrag. Kovachii, caught George in a scheme to fudge paperwork on other, artificially propagated, orchids. They figured he was trading in Phrag. Kovachii because his supplier was one of three growers in Peru with a legal permit to cultivate them. Nope. But he was an easy fall guy — elderly, bellicose, and unable to afford a good lawyer, apparently.

As for the fabulous orchid, it was stripped from the wild by poachers as soon as word got out that it existed.

Eric Hansen, who wrote Orchid Fever, "An extraordinary, well-told tale of botany, obsession, and plant politics" (U.S.A. Today), may want to start thinking about that sequel.

Continue reading “Phrag. Kovachii Mop-Up News”

Controversy over orchid settled with guilty plea

Finally, this is settled! Lots of politics involved in this one, but I guess the fellow just wanted to get it over with.

Facing felony charges in a smuggling case involving Selby Botanical Gardens, Michael Kovach pleads guilty to lesser charges.


Controversy over orchid settled with guilty plea

Facing felony charges in a smuggling case involving Selby Botanical Gardens, Michael Kovach pleads guilty to lesser charges.

Published June 11, 2004

TAMPA – Two months after Michael Kovach discovered a rare Peruvian orchid, armed federal agents showed up at his door in Virginia.

In what quickly escalated into an international controversy, the New York Times, Washington Post and People magazine wrote about how Kovach could wind up behind bars for smuggling the protected flower into Miami.

On Thursday morning, in a nearly empty federal courtroom, Kovach pleaded guilty to reduced charges, and the judge overseeing the hearing suggested he might avoid prison altogether.

Kovach, who has criticized federal wildlife officials for prosecuting him as a smuggler, told the judge he just wanted to get the matter settled.

“There’s a lot of questions about this case in my mind, but it’s resolution time,” Kovach told U.S. Magistrate Judge Stanley Wilson.

Kovach had originally been indicted on a felony count of smuggling an endangered species and a misdemeanor count of illegal possession of an endangered species.

In exchange for his guilty plea, the U.S. Justice Department reduced the felony to a misdemeanor count of illegal trade.

Wilson, in discussing sentencing options during the hourlong hearing in Tampa federal court, suggested Kovach might wind up on probation instead of in jail.

No sentencing date has been set. The misdemeanor charges each carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

The ladyslipper orchid at the center of the case carries Kovach’s name, at least for now. Kovach, an orchid collector from Goldvein, Va., found the dazzling flower at a roadside stand at a rural crossroads named El Progresso in the Andes Mountains in late May 2002.

The Peruvian vendor “said they had something in the back, and brought this out,” Kovach told the judge. “I wasn’t sure at first what it was. It was too big, too colorful. It didn’t fit the description of other orchids in that family.”

The ladyslipper Kovach bought that day was one that had never been named by scientists. His discovery had a bloom as big as a man’s hand, its petals a dramatic pink shading into deep purple. He paid $3.60 for three of them.

Later Kovach showed the flower to his mentor, orchid collector Lee Moore, who told him “you’ve got the Holy Grail of orchids.”

Kovach gave Moore two of the orchids and stashed the third in his suitcase for a flight to Miami.

That’s where he got into trouble.

Wild orchids are protected by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. It prohibits collecting endangered plants in the wild for export. Trade is permitted only if the exporting country certifies the plants were grown in a nursery or laboratory.

All ladyslipper orchids are on the treaty’s most-endangered list. Moore, in an e-mail Thursday to Kovach and Kovach’s attorney, Bob Hearn, wrote that there was no getting around the fact that Kovach had recognized the flower as a ladyslipper.

During Thursday’s hearing, though, Kovach told the judge that he was “under a mistaken impression” that he did not need a permit for an orchid that had not yet been officially named. He also blamed his lack of fluency in Spanish.

On June 4, 2002, Kovach showed up at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. Selby’s stunned orchid experts agreed to publish a scientific description of his flower, naming it Phragmipedium kovachii.

Orchid expert Eric Christenson, a former Selby employee, said sticking Kovach’s name on the plant was tantamount to telling federal authorities, “Hey, come arrest me!”

Sure enough, Peruvian authorities complained that Kovach had failed to get the proper permits, and in August 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service searched both Kovach’s nursery and Selby Gardens. Federal agents also confiscated a piece of Kovach’s plant that one of Selby’s experts had taken home to Vermont to try to get it to take root.

After a yearlong investigation, a Tampa grand jury indicted Kovach in November 2003. Two months later, federal officials also charged Selby Gardens and one of its orchid experts, Wesley Higgins, with illegally possessing the ladyslipper.

Selby, the first botanical garden ever charged with a federal wildlife crime, pleaded guilty and agreed three years’ probation and a $5,000 fine.

Selby had to take out a full-page ad in an orchid magazine apologizing for its role in the case. And Selby officials had to write to the international body in charge of scientific names for species, urging that Kovach’s name be taken off the orchid.

So far there has been no response to that letter, a Selby spokeswoman said Thursday.

Higgins, of Cape Coral, also pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $2,000 fine and serve two years of probation, six months of it on home detention.

– Times staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

An Orchid Super-Hero Responds….

In the midst of the Orchid Guide Forum dust-up, the extraordinary Oliver Sparrow responds with dizzying logic and sanity to frenzied finger-pointing over the stripping of Phrag. Kovachii from the wild:

Shame on the Peruvian government! Shame on the collectors! When are they going to pay?? What they did is far worse then what Selby did. Why is there no call for their collective heads (including the Peruvian officials who are complicit in their lack of action)?

Oliver’s response:

I carry no torch for the Peruvian government, but I happen to have a team in Peru writing a guide book to its wild places, so we do have some insight. To quote our introduction:

“…A more detailed assessment shows how extraordinarily diverse Peru actually is. International convention divides the world into various types of ecosystem. There are, altogether, just over a hundred of these that are recognised by science. With only minor straining, no less than 84 of these can be found in Peru!

Recent studies of the World’s biodiversity hot-spots place at least five of these in Peru. In particular, the Tambopata and Manu regions possess two of the most diverse flora and fauna forests in the world.The Pongo de Mainique Canyon on the Urubamba River is alleged to be the most biodiverse area on Earth’s surface. It is, however, a relatively accessible area and so has been studied with more intensity than the backwoods. There may well be more diverse regions elsewhere. […]

Peru has the fourth largest expanse of primary forest in the world. As with most primary tropical forests, this is extremely species-rich, with up to two hundred different kinds of large tree cramming themselves into a hectare of forest. […] Peru and Ecuador are the heartland of a range of mist-forest and other orchid genera. The ceja de selva [montane forest] is particularly rich in these plants in areas where rock breaks forest into a myriad of patches. However, the are epiphytic orchids growing to 3800m, probably a world record. At least two species of cactus grow under snow cover at 4500m. There is an extraordinary diversity of medicinal plants, all readily available from market stalls. At least five narcotic plants grow in Peru – the coca shrub, the three plants used in the ayahuasca brew, the hallucinogen cactus known as el cactus de San Pedro – and probably many more. ”

My point – that there is a lot to protect. Peru has around 30 reserves, parks and the like, many essentially abandoned for want of funds. I visited the San Martin centre last year, and found the staff both unpaid and without fuel to patrol their area. Set against this, the drugs industry was still very active in the area.

But should Peru not fund its wildlife protection better? Average per capita income buys what about $4500 buys in the US, per annum. That puts it on a par with nations such as the following: Albania Algeria Cuba Egypt Guatemala Honduras Iran Jordan Morocco Romania.

The country is recovering from the disasters of the 1983-94 period, when the war against the Sendero and economic mismanagement brought the country to deep crisis. There was a further crisis of climate and institutions at the turn of the century and there are still many millions of needy people, displaced into shack-cities on the coastal desert, malfunctioning industry and problems of collecting due taxes.

Excuse the length of this. The point that I want to get across is that priorities in such nations are extremely focused, and a minor botanical detail cannot expect much attention. Equally, the lesson to take from this is that what is tractable to conservation in low income countries is, at best, habitats and not species. Something which lunatic foreigners will pay a year’s income to acquire, and which will fit into a small suitcase, is virtually impossible to protect, notably in a nation which has a vast industry entrained in shipping illegal cocaine paste (and now opium balls) North. Better by far manage this by making the object of desire – plant, parrot or shell – available to collector gluttony through breeding programs, legal export and so forth. Better to focus state efforts on keeping habitats from being logged, farmed or simply trashed through general erosion.

Oliver Sparrow

Selby formally pleads guilty

“Selby Botanical Gardens of Sarasota and one of its top scientists formally pleaded guilty Tuesday… “

“Leaders of the popular nonprofit botanical gardens on the bayfront also must run a full-page ad in The American Orchid Society magazine to apologize, send letters to other botanical institutions to tell them how Selby broke the law, and petition the International Botanical Congress to change the name they gave the flower, Phragmipedium kovachii. ”


Selby pleads guilty in scandal over orchid
Herald Tribune


TAMPA — Selby Botanical Gardens of Sarasota and one of its top scientists formally pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting and handling a rare orchid the federal government says was smuggled in from Peru.

The plea agreement would mean the gardens will pay a $5,000 fine and must submit to three years’ probation for the misdemeanor charge under the Endangered Species Act.

Leaders of the popular nonprofit botanical gardens on the bayfront also must run a full-page ad in The American Orchid Society magazine to apologize, send letters to other botanical institutions to tell them how Selby broke the law, and petition the International Botanical Congress to change the name they gave the flower, Phragmipedium kovachii.

Barbara Hansen, the chairwoman of Selby’s board of trustees, agreed to the plea deal. She was ill and left without comment immediately after the proceedings in U.S. Magistrate Thomas G. Wilson’s courtroom.

Selby horticulturist Wesley E. Higgins agreed to a plea deal specifying house arrest for six months, probation for a year, and a $2,000 fine. He declined to comment.

Tuesday’s courtroom action merely formalized an agreement reached in December, and settled months of negotiations with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice.

A judge is expected to rule on the plea deals at a sentencing hearing in about 75 days. The plea deals were just a recommendation to the court, which could impose harsher penalties.

Also charged in the case was James Michael Kovach, the Virginia nursery owner who brought the orchid to Selby in June 2002 and was indicted in November on charges of possessing the plant and smuggling it into this country. He is scheduled to appear in court next week.

Phrag. Kovachii: Christenson Speaks

Big orchid society meeting today – the guest speaker was Eric Christenson, the taxonomist at the centre of the Phrag. Kovachii drama. For some reason I imagined he would be a small, studious-looking man in khaki shorts, knobby knees, a giant safari hat and round spectacles, but as it turns out he was more of a cross between Paul Bunyan and a motorcycle gang member. An extremely large man, he was as wide as he was tall, with a full beard, bad haircut, and easy way of speaking in front of a large audience. He had a sort of charm, and certainly, his long and academic presentation on oncidiums was far more interesting than it deserved to be. Especially considering that it was supposed to be talk on phragmipediums.

He did get around to the Phrag. Kovachii (excuse me…. Phrag. Peruvianum) saga at the end of his speech. It was a very perfunctory description of events leading up to Mr. Kovach’s indictment (maximum $300G fine and 6 years in prison) and Selby’s plea bargain down to a fine of $5,000 and a promise to apply themselves toward the reversal of the name “Phrag. Kovachii” in favour of “Phrag. Peruvianum”. It was clear from his expressions of pity that Mr. Kovach’s was just a bit player in a clash between Christenson and Selby. While he seemed dismissive of Kovach’s arrogance in calling attention to himself by demanding that the plant be named ‘Kovachii’, Mr. Christenson reserved his special contempt for Selby Botanical Gardens — a former employer — and appeared gleeful at his own contribution to Selby’s humiliation, who, he claimed, deserved everything they got. Interestingly, Mr. Christenson talked about the “Son of Sam” law in the United States, whereby no one can profit from a criminal act, and offered up his fervent desire that no book be published on the incident using the name “Phrag. Kovachii” as a result of these legal proceedings. While I’m sure Mr. Christenson felt himself to be on the right side of justice (“the Peruvian government will be pleased”, he claimed), I’m sure I detected more than a little bruised ego underlying his sentiments.

I was puzzled by Mr. Christenson’s openess about the future of Phrag. Kovachii in general distribution. A few months back, the mere suggestion that the plant would be available for sale legally within a couple of years had him so concerned that he passed along the intelligence to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their action. Today he was quite frank in describing the sad irony that Mr. Kovach would be doing prison time for a plant that would be widely available for cultivation in a couple of years. Odd. I’m sure the Florida grower, George Norris, who originally mentioned this possibility in a client newsletter that he forwarded to Mr. Christenson, would be glad to know that though his business was raided by federal agents as a result, it’s all common knowledge now.

Considering all the unsympathetic and self-interested characters in this drama, there is one player that has my attention and admiration: The Peruvian government. It seems that they are taking an active role in demanding full control over the future distribution of the species, and have demanded that every single specimen that has been removed from the country be returned. While this contributes nothing to the preservation of the species in-situ, I can’t help but admire a country that stands up for itself against representatives of bigger and more powerful countries who are accustomed to waltzing in and laying claim to whatever they find of value. A nice show of courage and national pride, especially in this day and age.

Garden fined in orchid scandal

Phrag_2It looks like Selby Botanical Gardens has escaped a possible $100,000 fine in the Phrag. Kovachii drama. They’ve been charged a penalty of
$5,000 and will participate in renaming the plant “Phrag. Peruvianum”, which was the name originally proposed by ex-employee and rival Eric
Christenson before he got scooped.

“We didn’t think we were doing anything wrong, but it turned out we did, and we’re sorry we did,” (Selby chairwoman) Hansen said.”

Garden fined in orchid scandal

Garden fined in orchid scandal

Prosecutors say discovery of the Peruvian plant runs afoul of Endangered Species Act. A deal whittles the penalty to $5,000.

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 18, 2003
St. Petersburg Times

Selby orchid expert Wesley Higgins also was charged over the ladyslipper orchid, temporarily named Phragmipedium kovachii.

The orchid investigation damaged the reputation of the 13-acre Selby Botanical Gardens, which attracts 160,000 visitors a year. Several board members quit, the executive director was forced out and some major donors withheld pledges. Selby will change its procedures for how it handles orchids from other countries, said chairwoman Barbara Hansen.

In an unprecedented move, federal prosecutors Wednesday brought criminal charges against Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota and one of its employees for their role in the discovery of a dazzling ladyslipper orchid from Peru.

Selby Gardens was charged with a misdemeanor violation of the Endangered Species Act, the first time any botanical gardens in the United States has been charged with such a crime, experts said.

Selby’s board of directors has worked out a plea deal with federal prosecutors that will allow the botanical gardens to pay a fine of $5,000, instead of a potential penalty of up to $100,000.

“I suppose you’d say it was a slap on the wrist,” Selby chairwoman Barbara Hansen said.

One of Selby’s premier orchid experts, Wesley Higgins, also was charged with the same crime.

Higgins declined to comment, and a U.S. Justice Department spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Selby officials at first trumpeted the institution’s role in the June 2002 discovery of the plant species, which they hailed as the most exciting orchid find in a century.

But in August federal agents showed up to search Selby’s records, and a Tampa grand jury issued subpoenas to the staff.

“We didn’t think we were doing anything wrong, but it turned out we did, and we’re sorry we did,” Hansen said.

The yearlong investigation cast a pall over Selby, which draws 160,000 visitors a year to its 13-acre waterfront grounds and greenhouses. The pressure of scrutiny exacerbated tensions on Selby’s board to the point that several board members quit, the executive director was forced out and some major donors withheld pledges.

Hansen said she hopes that by accepting responsibility for its crime, Selby and its staff can put the scandal behind them. She said she hoped Selby would suffer no further consequences, such as the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants.

In addition to the fine, she said Selby has agreed to change its procedures for how it handles orchids from other countries and will encourage other scientific institutions to make similar changes.

“We don’t want other institutions to make the same mistake,” she said. “All institutions are just going to have to be more careful with their paperwork.”

She said Selby will petition the international scientific body in charge of naming species to withdraw the name Selby’s orchid experts gave to the bloom from Peru.

They had named it Phragmipedium kovachii at the request of the man who brought it to them, orchid collector Michael Kovach of Goldvein, Va. Federal agents searched Kovach’s nursery and last month the grand jury indicted him on charges of smuggling and illegally possessing the rare orchid.

He declined to comment Wednesday.

“It’s not a good idea to name an orchid after anybody who brought it into the country illegally,” Hansen said.

Kovach bought the ladyslipper orchid at a remote truck stop in Peru. He knew the minute he saw it that it was unlike any other ladyslipper: a tall stalk topped with a bloom as big as a man’s hand, its petals a hot pink shading into deep purple.

His mentor, a swashbuckling plant collector from Miami named Lee Moore, told him he had found “the Holy Grail of orchids.”

At Moore’s urging, Kovach packed the orchid in his suitcase, flew to Miami and drove the plant to Sarasota. When he carried it into a roomful of experts at Selby Gardens, he was greeted by “a simultaneous wave of eye-widening and mouth opening,” Kovach wrote in an orchid-collector newsletter.

Every year hundreds of collectors consult Selby’s experts on the proper identification of the species they find. Higgins, in an e-mail to orchid enthusiasts last year, said Selby’s experts never checked whether the collectors had the proper paperwork.

When Kovach brought them his stunning find, they focused instead on rushing into print the first scientific description of the species, a move that would bring international acclaim for Selby among orchid circles.

In a 2002 interview with the PBS program Nova, Higgins called the flower “spectacular.” He “scrambled to put together a team of three experts to write a Latin description of the new phragmipedium,” the show reported.

The mustachioed Higgins is a familiar face at Florida orchid shows, where he frequently works as a judge. Retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after 26 years, he earned graduate degrees in horticultural science and botany. His specialty is plant identification and classification.

According to Kovach’s account, Higgins was aware another plant identification expert, a disgruntled former Selby employee named Eric Christenson, was rushing to get a description of the orchid into print.

Kovach wrote that Higgins told him “a race for access to the plant had developed. He said it looked like I had won that race.” Selby beat Christenson into print by five days.

Christenson cried foul, as did Peruvian authorities. Kovach had brought the orchid out of Peru without getting the permits international law require for trade in endangered species, a law that covers ladyslipper orchids.

Christenson contended such illegal conduct is commonplace among botanical gardens, because until now the law was never enforced.

“Everybody takes this as a joke,” he said Wednesday. Seeing Selby charged “is just glorious news.”

Times staff writer Graham Brink and researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

Selby’s takes the low road

I had to laugh at this quote from Selby’s in response to criminal charges against Kovach for orchid smuggling:

“I think that pretty well proves that the garden is quite innocent of any wrongdoing except in accepting the orchid to identify it…(Selby’s stated) last year that Kovach produced the proper paperwork upon his arrival and that ‘we would have kicked him out’ if he didn’t have it.’ (They) also said that Selby does not check or verify papers. “

Wow, there’s a spectacular display of hypocrisy. Selby’s knew very well there was no way the orchid could have been brought in to the U.S. legally, thanks to the convoluted logic of CITES regulations. In their rush to get their names consigned to posterity, they forgot to cover their posteriors.

Grand jury indictment handed down in Selby orchid debacle

Herald Tribune
SARASOTA — A Virginia nursery owner who brought a rare orchid to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of smuggling the plant into the country.

The grand jury in Tampa last week indicted James Michael Kovach on charges of smuggling and illegally possessing a rare Peruvian orchid now named for him: Phragmipedium kovachii.

Kovach, 48, has not been taken into custody. If convicted of the felony charge of smuggling and the misdemeanor charge of possession he will face up to six years in prison and fines of up to $350,000.

The feds are also in negotiation with Selby’s board of trustees over the garden’s punishment for accepting the orchid in June 2002, and then naming it a week later.

Barbara Hansen, chairwoman of the board, said Thursday that Kovach’s indictment clears the non-profit research center along U.S. 41 of most of the blame in the matter.

“I think that pretty well proves that the garden is quite innocent of any wrongdoing except in accepting the orchid to identify it,” Hansen said.

The indictment is the latest in a string of challenges facing Selby. Several key staffers have quit in recent months including Shawn Farr, the man hired in May to stabilize the gardens. Farr cited disagreements with Hansen and other board members.

More than a half-dozen board members have quit and several large donors have withheld their contributions over the board’s firing in July of Meg
Lowman, Selby’s popular director since 1999.

Former board member Bob Richardson has also asked local and state officials to look into the current board’s handling of the gardens’ affairs and whether there are enough trustees left to legally run the place.

In the orchid world, Kovach’s orchid has been described as the most spectacular find in 100 years.

Federal investigators have charged that Kovach brought the orchid into the United States in violation of the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species treaty.

The treaty is intended to keep threatened plants and animals from being spirited out of the wild.

Kovach found the flower in May 2002 while on an orchid-collecting trip in Moyobamba, a city in the high jungles of northeastern Peru.

Kovach’s discovery wasn’t the result of years of hunting; he bought the plant in a pot from a roadside flower stand. Moyobamba, population 95,000, capital of the sprawling San Martín province, is also known as “The Orchid City” because of its abundance of flowers and its thriving orchid trade.

Still, as a commercial nursery owner, Kovach knew what he’d found. The flower, sort of a peachy color with patches of purple, was at least twice as
big as any “lady slipper” orchid anyone had ever seen.

Kovach flew back to the States and went through U.S. Customs in Miami. He declared he had plants and was whisked through. Kovach headed straight for Selby, where, on June 5, he met with Dr. Wesley E. Higgins, head of the orchid identification center, and Dr. John T. Atwood, then Selby’s orchid curator.

Higgins still works at the gardens, but Atwood left last year.

It’s unclear what, if any, paperwork was produced when Kovach showed up.

Lowman told the Herald-Tribune last year that Kovach produced the proper paperwork upon his arrival and that “we would have kicked him out” if he didn’t have it.

Lowman also said that Selby does not check or verify papers.

Hundreds of amateurs stream through Selby every month seeking to have their orchids identified, she said, and checking paperwork is akin to
law enforcement work for which Selby is ill-suited.

Orchid growing is big business. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are more than 700 orchid growers in the United States with sales topping $100 million annually.

When a new orchid is found, there is prestige waiting for whoever publishes the discovery first. And according to internationally accepted rules of
plant nomenclature, the first to publish a description of a species gets to name it.

Selby, after a marathon session of writing, research, description and peer review via Internet, published a brief description in a special handout on June 10, 2002. The handout’s tiny circulation didn’t meet accepted standards for publication, though.

Two days later, just a week after Kovach dropped off the flower, Selby published its description in a special edition of its journal “Selbyana,” which did meet the requirements.

A woman who answered the phone Thursday at Kovach’s home in Goldvein, Va., declined to comment and hung up.

Selby’s light-speed naming of the orchid beat out Eric A. Christenson, a former Selby taxonomist who was working to name the same plant.

Christenson said Thursday that he feels that Selby got caught up in a trend in the orchid community of playing loose with the rules.

“Selby wouldn’t be in the trouble it is today if it hadn’t taken baby steps toward this,” he said. “It’s kind of indicative of a system gone wrong.”

Christenson said he harbors no ill will to those who remain at Selby, but that there is no way anyone could have thought they would get away with any
involvement in smuggling a high-profile orchid into the country.

“These people are idiots,” he said. “It’s way too high profile to get away with. And they didn’t.”

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.