Local News

Smithsonian Head Sentenced In Raleigh For Violating Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Posted January 23, 2004

— Lawrence Small, head of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., was sentenced to two years' probation and 100 hours of community service Friday in Federal Court for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In addition, Small must submit for publication a letter of explanation to the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and National Geographic.

Chief U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle handed down the sentence after Small pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for buying South American artifacts which included body parts and feathers from protected and endangered birds.

Small's attorney, Judah Best, said Small did not realize it was illegal to own the artifacts because they previously had been displayed legally at two museums that had special permits.

The federal misdemeanor draws a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $15,000 fine.

United States Attorney Frank Whitney said the crime is a strict liability crime.

"Whether you had criminal intent or not is unimportant," Whitney said.

In 1998, two years before he took his Smithsonian post, Small paid $400,000 for 1,000 pieces of tribal art, including headdresses, ceremonial body wear and weapons, from a seller in Cary. The artifacts came from the Brazilian Amazon and included body parts and feathers from endangered species.

Small was charged earlier this month with violating the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act from February 1998 until Nov. 27, 2001, by possessing, transporting, causing to be transported, purchasing, bartering, offering to purchase, carrying, and causing to be carried, migratory birds and parts thereof, including the feathers Small had purchased.

"He did not make the connection that museums can do this, but individuals can't," Best told the court.

In accordance with the terms of his plea agreement with the United States Attorney's Office, Small, 62, forfeited his entire collection of Amazonian artifacts and all pieces in his and his wife's private collection that contain parts of migratory birds or endangered species.

When asked if he considered himself an innocent victim in the case, Small said only that "I'm glad we got the closure, and I think that the process has been handled professionally and fairly."

The woman who sold the artifacts to Small, identified as Rosita Roden, has not been charged. But U.S. attorneys said their investigation is not over.

Thomas J. Healy, Special Agent in charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Northeast Region, which led the investigation, stressed the need for public education to help citizens avoid the unwitting purchase of illegal wildlife products.

"It is our job to enforce wildlife laws," Healy said. "An important part of this effort is to help the public understand that just because an item is offered for sale does not mean that its purchase or importation is legal.

"If there is any good that can come of this situation, it is to raise public awareness of the laws governing the sale, purchase, and importation of wildlife parts and products, and of the seriousness with which the Congress and the Fish and Wildlife Service take the protection of endangered species."

The Smithsonian, established in 1846, is a center for research and scholarship in the arts, sciences and history with more than 140 million artifacts and specimens.

Prior to serving as secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Small was an executive at Citicorp.

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