Va. man admits trafficking in whale teeth

A Virginia man admitted Monday in federal court that he trafficked in the teeth of an endangered species of whale, authorities said.

Richard M. Ertel, 62, of Spotsylvania pleaded guilty in Richmond’s federal court to two violations of the Lacey Act for trading in the teeth of sperm whales. Ertel could face a maximum of five years in prison when he is sentenced in January.

For five years ending in 2007, Ertel sold sperm whale teeth that he purchased from sources in the Ukraine, federal prosecutors said.

Sperm whale teeth are often used for scrimshaw, an art form that involves etching, engraving or carving a bone or tooth of a whale, dolphin or porpoise, federal officials said. Authorities said sperm whale teeth can “fetch large sums of money from collectors and tourists.”

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