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Lake Elmo woman pleads guilty to wildlife smuggling

A Lake Elmo woman could face as many as five years in prison over her role in a scheme to smuggle protected wildlife from Laos.

Tia Yang, 36, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on July 24 to one count of conspiracy to smuggle wildlife. Pa Lor, an Oakdale woman of unknown age, pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Both women face potential maximum penalties of five years in prison and will be sentenced by Judge Joan Ericksen on an as yet undetermined date.

According to the women's plea agreements, Yang leased a booth at the International Marketplace in St. Paul where Lor sold items made from a variety of protected species, including Asian elephant, giant squirrel, leopard cat, mongoose, monitor lizard, tapir and flying squirrel.

Yang admitted that she knew Lor was smuggling wildlife and provided financial support to further the smuggling. Further, she allowed packages of wildlife to be shipped to her from Laos for sale at the booth, said David Anderson, a spokesman for the U.S. District Attorney's Office in Minneapolis.

According to an international treaty, some protected species may be imported into the country if the importers obtain an import permit in advance. The women had not secured such a permit.

Authorities purchased items made from protected species at the booth in November 2005 and again in June 2006. Two months after the second purchase, in August 2006, authorities searched the booth and recovered items made from several protected species.

In October 2005, Lor was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after returning from Laos with nearly 1,400 separate, unclaimed products made from wildlife, the indictment states.

The case was the result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of the Interior-Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.