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Art gallery owner pleads guilty to trafficking wildlife

The owner of a Napa Valley fine art and antiques gallery and wine tasting collective pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring with European vendors to ship turtle, whale and seal parts to his gallery, the United States Attorney’s Office said.

Michael Polenske, a 53-year-old resident of Napa, admitted conspiring from 2007 through 2011 to sell wildlife he knew or should have known was possessed, transported and sold in violation of federal laws, U.S.Attorney’s Office spokesman Abraham Simmons said.

The items shipped to Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, Polenske’s gallery,  included a sea turtle shell protected by the Endangered Species Act in 2011.

Polenske also admitted selling and purchasing other sea turtle shells, whale bones, orca jaws and a seal head, Simmons said.

Polenske also admitted importing wildlife items into the United States from European vendors using false labels with the assistance of Hedley’s Humpers Ltd. of London and Paris, Abraham said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the shipments violated the Endangered Species Act, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Polenske was charged Monday with one count of conspiracy to traffic and smuggle wildlife and one count of wildlife trafficking. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 13 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Under a plea agreement, Polenske will pay $63,231.68 in fines, and he also faces one year in prison, Simmons said. He will be under supervised release if he is not incarcerated, Simmons said.

Hedley’s Humpers Ltd. pleaded guilty on March 31 to wildlife smuggling based on false labeling in connection with the imports. The corporation was sentenced on July 7 to three years probation and ordered to pay $100,000 in fines and community service payments, Simmons said.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Border Enforcement Security Task Force investigated the case.

Polenske’s attorney McGregor Scott did not return a call for comment.

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