Father and Son Charged with Selling Illegal Skins, Including Snow Leopard

Father, like son, charged in selling of tiger skin

Friday, July 20, 2007

A father might be going the way of his son if federal prosecutors have their way.

Barry McMaster, of Greensburg, is charged with violating the Endangered Species Act by selling a tiger skin to an undercover agent.

His son, Kevin McMaster, is currently serving a 25-month prison sentence for doing the same thing.

Both men were caught as part of an undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to an affidavit for a search warrant filed in the case, agents first became aware of the McMasters’ business, Exotic & Unique Gifts, when Kevin McMaster sent an unsolicited e-mail to an undercover agent, asking if he was interested in “cat skins.”

What followed was a yearlong business relationship, in which the undercover agent, Timothy Santel, sent Kevin McMaster $17,800 for the skins of a tiger, a snow leopard and two leopards.

Kevin McMaster ran the Exotic & Unique Gifts location in Port St. Lucie, Fla. His father runs the store on South Pennsylvania Avenue in Greensburg.

Yesterday, Barry McMaster answered the phone at his store but refused to respond to any questions.

He is charged with two federal counts involving interstate commerce, including offering an endangered species for sale and shipping an endangered species.

According to court papers, he was paid $8,500 by an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent for a tanned tiger skin in December 2004.

The Exotic & Unique stores specialized in selling “skins, mounts and horns.”

A catalog Mr. McMaster gave to the undercover agent lists a number of available animals, including tigers, leopards and panthers, as well as blue and black wildebeest, impala, African lions, crocodiles, gazelle, vervet monkey and zebras.

“If you don’t see what you are looking for, please ask,” the cataglog reads. “We have two stores and import from Africa regularly.”

The affidavit for the search warrant recounts the conversations between both the McMasters and the undercover agents.

Often, Kevin McMaster told Mr. Santel that he couldn’t actually sell the tiger hides to him, but that they would be a gift in exchange for buying a legal zebra skin.

According to an affidavit for a search warrant, neither father nor son had ever been issued any wildlife permits or licenses, including threatened or endangered species. They also had never presented any wildlife imports to the Fish and Wildlife Service for clearance.

The affidavit for the search focuses primarily on Mr. Santel’s dealings with Kevin McMaster, who pleaded guilty in January 2006 in Miami to selling more than $200,000 worth of skins and other items, including gorilla skulls and baby tiger mounts, from 2003 to 2004.

Mr. McMaster told him: “All of the spots and stripes have died of old age or medical reasons.”

But Mr. Santel said yesterday that doesn’t matter.

“It’s the simple rule of supply and demand,” he said. “Regardless if the tiger skin came from a roadside zoo or the wilds of India, if someone has one, someone else is going to want one.

“It creates a demand for it.”

And that means it won’t always be captive-raised animals that are taken.

“We do see the wild populations being affected,” Mr. Santel said. “It’s extremely difficult to know the true origins of the skins.”

First published on July 19, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.

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