Blades made of sawfish, mounted brown owls, crocodile skin wallets and giant sea turtle shells — these are a few of the illegal things an antiques shop in Middleburg, Va., was selling.
Keith Foster, 66, admitted Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria that his now-closed business, the Outpost, was illegally smuggling items made from endangered animals and other protected species. He agreed to forfeit $275,000 as well as 175 wildlife products, including a mounted hartebeest, an ostrich feather duster, taxidermied whooper swans and a boar tusk mirror.
Foster knew the rules. In 2012 he tried to bring a leopard-skin rug into the country only to see it seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. When he tried to get it back, he instead was given a detailed list of the wildlife products that can’t be brought into the country, according to court records.
But he also wasn’t hiding. According to a search warrant, endangered species were regularly featured on the store’s website and Instagram account. When an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent posing as a customer visited last spring, Foster showed him ivory, zebra hide and other illegal goods.
“In truth, I shouldn’t be bringing those in,” Foster told the agent of his sawfish blades, according to court records. “I’m the only fool in the States that probably wants to risk it.”
He was getting his products from Britain, he told the agent: “It’s just a matter of how, how risky I want to be.”
Foster told the agent he hid the illegal products in falsely labeled shipping containers when sending them back from abroad.
The Outpost has “only ever had one thing caught, which I think is pretty good” considering the “interesting things we import,” employee Lauren Rhodes told the undercover agent, according to a search warrant.
The Loudoun County shop was raided last year and closed several months ago.
“He’s a very kind and generous man who made a mistake,” defense attorney Ed MacMahon said, noting that Foster donated a percentage of his proceeds to charity. “The closing of The Outpost was a bad day for a lot of local charities as well.”
Foster, who lives in the small town of Upperville in Fauquier County, pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, a 1900 federal law that prohibits trafficking in illegal wildlife.
Foster also is a golf architect who has renovated a number of classic courses and designed several others in the U.S. and abroad.
Last year, his architecture firm was awarded a contract to renovate the famed Course at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, a project he planned to start in 2019. Congressional is partnering with the PGA of America to host a number of the PGA’s major events, including a Ryder Cup and a PGA Championship, over the next 20 years.
The status of that contract could not immediately be determined.
Foster is set to be sentenced March 8; he faces up to five years in prison.
A website for the Outpost has a message: “It’s been a wonderful adventure. Thank you for being a part of it.”
Leonard Shapiro contributed to this report.