Quebec woman arrested and charged for selling, smuggling polar bear skulls to undercover agent in Buffalo

Crime

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A woman from Montreal, Quebec has been arrested and charged after she sold and shipped wildlife skulls to a covert United States Fish and Wildlife Service special agent in Buffalo.

The 26-year-old Canadian woman, Vanessa Rondeau, owned and operated The Old Cavern Boutique in Montreal, which sold “a variety of unique curiosity and oddity items, many composed in whole or in part from wildlife,” according to the United States Attorney’s office.

The USAO says a review of the boutique’s business page revealed Rondeau had numerous federally protected wildlife items for sale.

On September 20, 2019, a USFWS special agent covertly messaged Rondeau on Facebook, inquiring about a taxidermied mounted crow she had listed for sale since late August 2019. The crow was listed for $325. The agent told Rondeau he wanted the item shipped to the United States and asked “about any problems shipping ‘these things’ to the United States because it might be a ‘protected species.'”

Rondeau told the agent she hadn’t run into an issue before and admitted that she labeled the items as “art pieces” for shipping purposes.

Later in 2019, Rondeau listed a polar bear skull for sale twice in December, first for $750 and again for $799. She wrote on the listing “pm [private message] me if interested.” A covert agent again messaged her, asking for information and more photos of the skull in January 2020. Rondeau supplied the additional photos.

She sold the skull to the undercover agent for $750 plus $30 for shipping. The skull reached the special agent in Buffalo on February 2, 2020.

Fast-forward to January 24, 2021, Rondeau listed another polar bear skull for sale on the boutique’s Facebook page and sold it to the special agent for $685 plus $30 for shipping. The skull arrived for the agent on February 11, 2021.

Vanessa Rondeau was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with Lacey Act Trafficking, Lacey Act False Labeling, and smuggling. She made an initial court appearance in U.S. District Court in Vermont. Rondeau will be in the Western District of New York on June 15, 2021, at 11:30 a.m.

She’s out on $50,000 cash bail.

The Vermont Office of Homeland Security Investigations and the Vermont Office of Customs and Border Protection helped in the investigation.

Patrick Ryan is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here.

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