November 16, 2001
Man Faces Federal Charges For Illegal Trafficking of Tigers
By Robin Mero, The Morning News/NWAonline.net
Gentry -- A son of the owner of Gentry's Wild-Wilderness Drive-Thru Safari was indicted Thursday on federal cahrges of illegal trafficking of endangered tigers and leopards that are protected by federal law.
Freddy Wilmoth and four others allegedly sold, purchased and transported animals between January and August 1998, according to Jan Diltz, Public affairs for the attorney's office.
A summons has been issued for wilmoth, directing him to surrender to the federal court in Missouri, Diltz said. After his appearance, a trail date will be set.
Wilmoth is charged with selling four tifers to Todd Lantz, owner of the Lazy L Exotics in Cape Girardeau, Mo., in February 1998, with the knowledge that the tigers were to be killed.
After the tigers were killed, Vicky Lantz prepared federal forms falsely stating the transaction was a donation, the charges state.
Wilmoth, Wodd and Vicki Lantz, Stoney Elam of fort Gibson, Okla., and Tim Rivers of Citra, Fla., face conspiracy and charges under the Lacey Act -- which protects wild animals -- incolving a total of six tigers and five leopards. If convicted, each gaces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000.
More indictments are expected, according to Scott Flahert of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis.
Flaherty said a large market exists for the hides of tigers, leopards and other big cars. Tiger hides fetch $5,000 to $20,000, depending on their type and condition, Flaherty said.
Meat, skulls and other body parts from exotic big cats command high prices, too, he said.
Wilmoth is the son of Ross Wilmoth, who ons the drive-thru safari in Gentry. Within the 200-acre oark, which opened 24years ago, visitors can view exotic cats such as lions, tigers, jaguars, cougars, and leopards, as well as giraffes, zebras, macaques, baboons, foxes, bears, emus, a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros.
In 1995, the elder Wilmoth was charges with violating the Animal Welfare Act. He settled the complaints in 1999 by paying an $8,000 civil penalty and agreeing to hire and additinal employee and correct deficiencies in his acquisition records.
a telephone call to Ross Wilmoth at the safari was not returned Thursday, and a Decatur telephone number listed for Freddy Wulmoth has been disconnected.
The associated Press contributed to this report.
Sat, May 4, 2002
New Indictments in Tiger Case Announced
By Daun Eierdam The Morning News/NWAonline.net
BENTONVILLE -- Six more indictments have been handed down in an exotic animal trafficking case in which a Gentry man pleaded guilty.
The indictments were announced Thursday in Chicago by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. All six named in the indictments were from Chicago.
Freddy Wilmoth of Gentry and a Cape Girardeau, Mo., couple, Todd and Vicki Lantz, were indicted on similar charges in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in February.
All three pleaded guilty to charges of illegal trafficking of endangered tigers and leopards and are awaiting sentencing by U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber. Webber is scheduled to announce those sentences May 20, according to a spokesperson in the U.S. District Court clerk's office.
The case against Wilmoth and the Lantzes is part of the overall investigation that resulted in the indictments announced Thursday, said Randall Samborn, the public information officer for Fitzgerald. However, Samborn said he could not elaborate on how the local investigation ties into the larger one.
Last month, a Ft. Gibson, Okla., exotic animal farm operator pleaded guilty to selling tigers and leopards. That case also is connected to the investigation, which is being conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A press statement by Fitzgerald's office notes that in addition to the six Chicagoans, a Wisconsin man and an Illinois exotic meat store also were indicted.
The fish and wildlife service executed six search warrants in 10 states in May 1999, which resulted in the seizure of a warehouse full of wildlife mounts, hides, skulls, bones, weapons and documents, according to the press statement.
In the 28-count indictment, suspects were charged with various misdemeanor violations of the Endangered Species Act and felony and misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act, which makes it unlawful to transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase wildlife that are taken, transported or sold in violation of federal law, according to the statement.
In several instances, the suspects are accused of shooting and skinning leopards and tigers. In one instance, leopard meat was offered for sale as lion meat in an exotic food store outside Chicago.
Two of three indictments handed down by the federal grand jury in Chicago involve 19 tigers, seven leopards, a snow leopard and a barasingha. All four species are protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to the statement. Seventeen tigers and one leopard were shot and killed.
In the local case, Wilmoth is accused of selling four tigers to Todd Lantz, owner of Lazy L Exotics in Cape Girardeau in February 1998, knowing that the tigers were to be killed.
After the tigers were killed, Vicky Lantz prepared federal forms that falsely stated that the transaction was a donation.
Wilmoth, the Lantzes and Stoney Elam, the Fort Gibson man, faced charges involving six tigers and five leopards.
Each could receive a maximum penalty of five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
According to a fish and wildlife spokesman, Scott Flaherty, a large market exists for the hides of tigers, leopards and other big cats. Meat, skulls and other body parts can command high prices, he added.
Wilmoth is the son of Ross Wilmoth, who owns the drive-through safari in Gentry. The 200-acre park features lions, tigers, jaguars, cougars and leopards, as well as other species.
Morning News reporter Robin Mero and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
June 19th, 2002
Hearing Canceled on Animal-Welfare Act Violations
The Morning News/NWAonline.net
Fayetteville -- A hearing scheduled today in the U.S. District Court to consider violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act by Ross Wilmoth, oner of the Wild-Wilderness Animal Safari in Gentry, has been canceled, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture representative.
The hearing has not yet been rescheduled.
The multiple charges that wilmoth faces were issued in August and involve the treatment of the animals at his buisness.
Wilmoth was formerly charged with violating the Animal Welfare Act in 1995. He settled those complaints in 1999 by paying an $8,000 civil penalty and agreeing to hire additional emplyee and correct deficiencies in his acquisition records.
June 28th, 2002
Wilmoth Settles Out Of Court On Animal-Welfare Violations
Gentry Safari Owner To Pay $10,000 Civil Penalty
By Robin Mero, The Morning News/NWAonline.net
Rogers -- Without admitting guilt, Ross Wilmoth has agreed to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to settle out of court on charges of mistreating animals at his Gentry Wild Wilderness Safari.
The U.S. Departmen of Agriculture charged Wilmoth in August with multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Court documents show the charges stemmed from inspections in 1999 and 200 if Wilmoth's 200-acre drive-through park, which features species such as lions, tigers, cougars, and leopards.
Charges included failing to:
Provide adequate veterinary care to animals
Maintain accurate inventory and birth and death records
Provide an appropriate environment for the psychological well-being of animals.
Properly store fod to protect from deterioration, molding, or contamination.
Keep grounds clean and free of trash.
Provide proper enclosures for some animals
Maintain housing facilities in good repair to protect animals from injury, contain them, and restrict entrance of other animals.
Keep primary enclosures clean.
The selltement, which was reached June 20, requires $5,000 be spent on training of personnel in animal care, husbandry, nutrition and handling -- and to improve facilites. The remaining $5,000 must be paid as a fine.
Wilmoth faced similar charges in 1995, based on violations found suring inspections that wook place between June 1992 and December 1994. Also in an out-of-court settlement, he agreed to and $8,000 civil penalty that included hiring an additional employee.
He als was ticketed in 1988 for selling a cougar cub with ringworm, according to Jim Rogers of USDA public affairs.
In 1992, he received a $300 fine for facility problems, and was investigated again in 1990 -- although no charges resulted, Rogers said.
"The More problems you have, the more often we're there." he said. "We look at everything from how you store food, to veterinary care and housing."
Wilmoth could not be reached Thursday for comment, and his attorney, James Crouch of Springdale, was out of town until Monday.
Wilmoth's son, Freddy Wilmoth -- who is an operator at the safari -- was sentenced in May on a Misdemeanor violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
Freddy Wilmoth pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the illegal transportation of endangered tigers into commerce. He was sentenced to six months' home confinement, three years' probation and was orderd to pay $10,000 to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Save the Tiger Fund.