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Pasco couple pleads guilty to trafficking Indonesian wildlife

Novita Indah and Larry Malugin sold more than 3,000 items made from the animals over a period of more than five years, federal officials said.
Two babirusa pigs are shown at Lowry Park Zoo in this photo from 1995. A Tampa Bay couple is accused of distributing remnants from exotic animal species, including a babirusa skill. [Tampa Bay Times]

When agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raided a Port Richey home in 2017, they didn’t find living creatures. They instead found hundreds of remnants: a half-dozen mounted snakes, including four spitting cobras; more than 150 snake skins and nearly 100 monitor lizard skins; wallets made from snake and lizard skin and belts with snake heads; and the skull of a babirusa, an Indonesian pig with strange, curving tusks.

But the some 369 articles of Indonesian wildlife the agents recovered that day represented only a small piece of the operation that Novita Indah and Larry Malugin ran for more than five years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In all, the department said, the pair sold about 3,100 pieces via eBay to buyers across the U.S. and the world.

On Tuesday, the justice department said, Indah, 49, and Malugin, 52, pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits selling wildlife brought into the country illegally. Both were indicted last year on charges of Lacey Act violations, conspiracy and smuggling, according to a news release.

Indah and Malguin started trafficking wildlife while living in Indonesia, the justice department said, and continued when they moved to Puerto Rico and then to Florida in 2013. They didn’t deal in living animals, but they sold mounts and objects made from a wide variety of Indonesian wildlife. In addition to the snakes, lizards and babirusa, they dealt in the slow loris, a wide-eyed nocturnal primate, and Old World monkeys such as macaque and lutung.

Some of those animals are listed as vulnerable or endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The justice department said all were protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Indah and Malugin sold their pieces for a total of more than $211,000, according to a news release. They smuggled the items in falsely labeled packages. They continued to sell the wildlife even after Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Customs inspectors repeatedly seized their packages.

Sentencing has yet to be scheduled, the justice department said. Indah and Malugin agreed to forfeit the items agents seized in 2017.