Crime & Courts

Anchorage man illegally purchased walrus tusks and head mount in undercover sting, federal charges say

An Anchorage businessman is facing federal charges connected to the purchase of walrus tusks and a head mount from undercover federal wildlife agents, according to documents filed in court Thursday.

Uzi Levi, owner of Levi Car Rental & Sales on Dowling Road, was charged with two violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for purchases of six walrus tusks for $300 and a walrus head mount for $500.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the endangered Pacific walrus cannot be sold, purchased, transported or exported for anything other than public display, scientific research or enhancing its species survival, charging documents say. However, there is an exemption in the act for Alaska Native people to take the walruses for subsistence or selling handicrafts and clothing.

In June 2020, an agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service watched as a man carried “a two-tusked, non-handicrafted walrus head mount into the business offices of the Levi car lot and leave the business premises without the head mount,” charges say. Federal authorities did not identify the seller in that instance, and there is no mention in court documents of prosecution in that event.

Roughly three weeks later, an undercover agent from the Fish and Wildlife Service went to the car lot and asked about renting a vehicle. The agent said he did not have much money and asked whether trading or bartering could be used to rent a vehicle instead, charges say.

A man at the business who was not identified in the charges asked, “Ivory?”

The man then called Levi by cellphone and gave the phone to the agent, charges say. Levi asked how much the agent wanted for walrus head mounts and tusks.

Between early July 2020 and March 2021, Levi and the agent had 10 phone calls and four text exchanges about non-handicrafted walrus ivory, according to charging documents.

On July 13, 2020, Levi purchased six non-handicrafted Pacific walrus tusks from the undercover agent at the offices of the car lot. In September, Levi purchased a non-handicrafted, three-tusked walrus head mount from the agent, charges say.

During the September sale, Levi told the special agent to put the head mount inside a yellow Ford Fiesta in the car lot. Later, someone emerged from a nearby building and took the head mount out of the car, concealed it under the blanket and took it back to the building, charging documents say.

During an interview with Fish and Wildlife agents in March of this year, Levi denied that he’d made any of the purchases, according to the charges.

ADN requests to speak with Levi went unreturned Friday.