Reports of a local consignment shop violating the Endangered Species Act by selling a jaguar fur coat drew swift criticism from many in the Mobile area — not of the shop or its owners, but of the tactics federal agents used to bring the case against them.
As Lagniappe reported on Wednesday, Hertha’s Second Edition was named in a complaint filed by federal prosecutors this week accusing the store of selling a coat partially made with Jaguar fur to an individual from Biloxi, Miss. sometime in late January.
Federal law prohibits the sale of pelts, furs and other byproducts from endangered animals across state lines, though most items created prior to 1973 are grandfathered in and can be possessed or sold within state lines.
Attorney Jeff Deen, who is representing Hertha’s in the case, has recently shed some light on how a 47-year-old fur coat taken on consignment from a local widower became the centerpiece of a sting operation set up by federal agents.
“The man had the coat for more than 40 years. It was legal for him to have it because it was made prior to the passage of the Endangered Species Act, which didn’t go into effect until 1973,” Deen said. “It’s also legal for him to do anything with it inside the state of Alabama, but it is illegal, however, to go across the state line and sell it.”While Deen doesn’t deny that an employee from Hertha’s Second Edition did cross the state line into Mississippi to make the final exchange, he said that only happened after the store was “baited” into doing so.
“So, they’ve got the coat in the store window and had received several bids on it because it’s a beautiful coat. Then, some woman calls up with the bid that’s more than two times higher than what anybody else had offered,” Deen said. “She was going to be driving over from New Orleans, but on the day of the sale, she called and asked if they could just meet her in Mississippi.”
When the employee showed up in Mississippi with the Jaguar coat to finalize the transaction, Deen says federal agents were there waiting on her.
“They didn’t arrest anyone, but they have issued a complaint in federal court against the company,” Deen said. “Of course, this is a small business, so that’s them and they could be fined up to $100,000.”
Speaking with Lagniappe, Deen questioned why federal resources were expended to target a small business owner while the four men from Florida who videotaped themselves dragging a shark behind a speedboat last week have yet to be charged with a crime.
An initial hearing in the case against Hertha’s is scheduled for 3 p.m., Aug. 8, in Mobile.