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Rhino Poachers Indicted in Montgomery

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Thursday, October 23, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery announced 18 indictments against two South African nationals, Dawie Groenewald, 46, and his brother, Janneman Groenewald, 44, and their company Valinor Trading CC (doing business as: Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris).

The pair were charged with conspiracy, Lacey Act violations, mail fraud, money laundering and structuring bank deposits to avoid reporting requirements. The Lacey Act is America’s oldest criminal statute addressing illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking. Under the Lacey Act, it is illegal to sell animal hunts that are conducted in violation of state, federal, tribal as well as foreign law.

From 2005 to 2010 Janneman Groenewald lived in Autauga County and his company, Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris, maintained accounts there. During this time period the two brothers traveled throughout the United States attending hunting conventions and gun shows where they sold outfitting services and accommodations to American hunters to be conducted at their ranch in Mussina, South Africa. The pair charged between $3,500 and $15,000 to American hunters for the opportunity to kill what the pair called, “problem rhinos.” According to the government, this was a lie. According to the indictments, the Groenwalds never received the necessary permits from the government of South Africa to kill those animals.

It is illegal to import rhino trophies into the United States. The pair claimed that their American clients could lawfully shoot the “problem rhino”, pose for a picture with the dead animal, and make record book entries, all at a reduced price. The government also alleges that the defendants cut the horns off some of the rhinos with chainsaws and knives and trafficked in the rhino horns on the black market. The pair are accused of money laundering in Autauga County and intentionally misleading regulators by breaking deposits up into small amounts to avoid reporting requirements.

The details of eleven alleged illegal hunts are recorded in the indictments. In one hunt the rhino had to be shot and killed after being repeatedly wounded by a bow and in another Dawie Groenewald used a chainsaw to remove the horn from a sedated rhino that had been hunted with a tranquilizer gun.

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None of the American hunters have been charged.

U.S Attorney George Beck said in a statement, “These defendants tricked, lied and defrauded American citizens in order to profit from these illegal rhinoceros hunts. Not only did they break South African laws, but they laundered their ill-gotten gains through our banks here in Alabama. We will not allow United States’ citizens to be used as a tool to destroy a species that is virtually harmless to people or other animals.”

The Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch said, “We are literally fighting for the survival of a species today. In that fight, we will do all we can to prosecute those who traffic in rhino horns and sell rhino hunts to Americans in violation of foreign law. This case should send a warning shot to outfitters and hunters that the sale of illegal hunts in the U.S. will be vigorously prosecuted regardless of where the hunt takes place.”

According to their website, Out Of Africa Adventurous Safaris hunts in several regions of various terrain. The company writes, “The concessions are reserved exclusively for our clients in large, private hunting areas. Dense bush, savannahs and hills are the habitats in which the game reaches maturity. The variety of regions allows us to offer a wide range of game with exceptional opportunities to bag valuable trophies. We can offer you 60 species and sub-species in these African countries (South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Tanzania). The hunting season in South Africa and Botswana is from February to November, in Zimbabwe from March to November, and in Tanzania from July to November. You will be hunting according to your wishes, possibilities and ability. Because of the vastness of the hunting area, we will track in 4×4 vehicles. Once the game has been sighted, it will be hunted on foot. It is at this moment that the actual hunt commences with its challenges, hazards and beauty.”

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The company website continues, “Your trophies will be marked, salted, and field prepared prior to being sent to a taxidermist. Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris will do all Taxidermy documentation and arrangements. Trophy Solutions Africa (Dip to ship in 99 days) will take care of the shipping of the trophies.”

The contact persons on the website are Johan & Estie van der Merwe. The company offers the following advice to clients: “Bring a bolt action or a double rifle (muzzleloaders are welcome). For Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant, a minimum calibre of 375 is required. All calibres bigger than this are welcome. For Lions, Leopard, Antelopes and other medium game a calibre of 300 or 30-06 will be sufficient. For dangerous game, 40 full metal-jacket cartridges as well as 40 soft-point cartridges are required. For medium game you will need at least 80 soft-point cartridges. Fit your rifle with a good quality scope with variable power; 1.5-6 x 42, 2.2-9 x 42 or the like. For transportation of your rifle between hunting areas, a soft case per gun is required.” “A valid passport is needed. South Africa requires no Visa. Zimbabwe requires a Visa, ($30). Tanzania requires a Visa, $50.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a statement about the indictments on Facebook:

“The owners of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris today were charged with selling illegal rhino hunts to unsuspecting American hunters. Demand for rhino horn is soaring: In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. In 2013, poachers killed more than 1,000. This investigation is part of ?#?OperationCrash, an ongoing nationwide effort to halt unlawful trafficking of rhino horns. Since the initial arrest of eight in 2012, there have been more than two dozen arrests and a dozen convictions.”

The illegal trade in rhino horns, ivory, and other wildlife products means that species like rhinoceroses and elephants could become extinct before the end of this century. Many Asians (particularly Chinese) believe that ground rhino horn has medicinal properties. In reality, rhino horns are made of keratin – the same substance as fingernails, toenails, or hair.

FWS Director Ashe Daniel M. Ashe said in a statement, “The fact that defendants used American hunters to execute this scheme is appalling – but not as appalling as the brutal tactics they employed to kill eleven critically endangered wild rhinos. South Africa has worked extraordinarily hard to protect its wild rhino population, using trophy hunts as a key management tool. The illegal ‘hunts’ perpetrated by these criminals undermine that work and the reputation of responsible hunters everywhere.”

Record high demand for illegally traded wildlife products has resulted in an explosion of illicit trade in wildlife in recent years. As a result of the actions of poachers, species such as elephants and rhinoceroses face the risk of significant decline or even extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is combating wildlife trafficking by targeting and stopping the illicit trade through law enforcement, and reducing demand for illegal products in consumer countries.

Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The U.S. is one of over 170 countries that signed the treaty to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets. Despite this the demand for rhinoceros horn and black market prices have skyrocketed in recent years.

In 2007 only 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa; but 1004 were killed in 2013. The rhino population has declined by 90 percent since 1970.

An indictment is simply an allegations that a crime has been committed. The defendants are presumed innocent until they have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of their peers. has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation of Out of Africa Safaris is part of Operation Crash (named for the term “crash” which describes a herd of rhinoceros). Operation Crash is an ongoing nation-wide effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns led by the Special Investigations Unit of the Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice. To this point Operation Crash has led to 26 arrests and 18 convictions with prison terms as high as 70 months.

South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority and a specialized endangered species unit within the organized crime unit of the South African Police Service have assisted U.S. authorities with this investigation. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) office in Montgomery; the Autauga County Sheriff’s Office; Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon K. Essig; and Richard A. Udell, the Senior Litigation Counsel with the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington have all contributed to this ongoing investigation.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Alabama Democrats launch “biggest” turnout campaign in their history

“Our organizers and volunteers have been working relentlessly to turn out the vote,” the Alabama Democratic Party said.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Democratic Party said Friday that they have launched the biggest get-out-the-vote campaign in their history in a bid to re-elect U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

“We’ve made over 3.5 million voter contacts this election cycle,” the ADP wrote in an email to supporters. “Today, we’ve started the biggest GOTV campaign in our history. We will be contacting voters around the clock from now until Election Day. As it stands, we have enough money to reach about 91 percent of the voters in our GOTV universe.”

“Our organizers and volunteers have been working relentlessly to turn out the vote,” the ADP said. “They are contacting voters in all 67 Alabama counties, making sure every Democrat has a plan to vote on Nov. 3.”

On Saturday, Jones will make several campaign stops throughout the Birmingham area to encourage voters to turn out on Election Day. He will make stops in his hometown of Fairfield as well as in Bessemer, Pratt City and East Lake.

Jefferson County is the Alabama Democratic Party’s main stronghold in the conservative state of Alabama. Mobilizing Democratic voters to come out, especially in Jefferson County, is essential if they are to have any hope of re-electing Jones, who has been trailing in public polling.

Jones’s shocking upset of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in the 2017 special election is the only statewide race that the Alabama Democratic Party has won since 2008.

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Jones had a decided advantage in money in that contest to saturate the airwaves and fund a GOTV effort to reach Democratic voters in the special election.

The Jones campaign is trying to build upon that success, but it is an uphill battle and he’s widely viewed as the most vulnerable Democratic senator up for re-election in 2020.

This time, Jones’s Republican opponent is not hamstrung by allegations of sexual misconduct and Trump is at the top of this ticket. The president remains popular in Alabama even if his support has waned in some other states.

Jones needs both an unusually strong Democratic turnout and for a large number of Trump voters to split their ticket and vote for Jones instead of his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville.

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Roughly half of Alabamians are straight-ticket voters.

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Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh won’t seek re-election in 2022

Marsh said it would be up to the Republican caucus to decide whether he’ll remain pro tem for the last two years of his term.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.

Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the top Republican member of Alabama’s upper chamber, will not seek re-election in 2022. 

Marsh told The Anniston Star, which first reported the story, that he will also not run for governor or the U.S. Senate in 2022 or in the future.

Marsh’s decision to not run again will bring an end to a 24-year career in state politics. Marsh, 64, made school choice a focus of his legislative work over the years, championing charter schools and wrote the Senate’s version of the 2014 Alabama Accountability Act, which allows for tax credits for those who make donations to scholarships for students at private schools. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Marsh found himself on the other side of public health experts’ understanding of the disease, suggesting to a reporter that he’d actually like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus, a theory that public health experts say would lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths and many more illnesses. 

Marsh also battled Gov. Kay Ivey over the expenditure of $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid over the summer, suggesting early on that the state should spend $200 million of that money on a new Statehouse, which drew widespread public condemnation.

The Alabama Legislature later approved Ivey’s plan to spend the federal aid, which does not include a new Statehouse. 

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Marsh explained to AL.com on Friday that during his tenure, the Republican-controlled Legislature has put Alabama’s fiscal well-being on solid ground. 

“Fiscally, I think we’re as strong as a state as we’ve ever been. I think this COVID has shown how financially secure the state is through our policies. I feel very good about our accomplishments,” he told the outlet. “But there comes a time for everything and I just want to make it clear that I do not intend to seek election in 2022.”

Marsh said it would be up to the Republican caucus to decide whether he’ll remain pro tem for the last two years of his term.

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Alabama Power reports progress on restoring power following Hurricane Zeta

Alabama Power said 131,000 outages remain and that the utility provider expects to have service restored to 95 percent of affected customers by Tuesday.

Brandon Moseley

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Crews work to restore power after Hurricane Zeta. (VIA ALABAMA POWER COMPANY)

Alabama Power said Saturday that its crews have restored power to 373,000 customers following Hurricane Zeta, which caused more than 504,000 outages at peak.

As of Saturday at 2:12 p.m., Alabama Power said 131,000 outages remain and that the utility provider expects to have service restored to 95 percent of affected customers by Tuesday.

 

 

Hurricane Zeta hit Louisiana as a category two hurricane on Wednesday before ripping through Mississippi and Alabama. There is an enormous amount of damage across the footprint of the Southern Company, the parent of Alabama Power.

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Alabama Power has said the impact of the storm is similar to what the company experienced during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.

Because Zeta was so fast-moving, it did not lose much of its strength as it moved inland. Much of the state experienced tropical-storm-force winds. There is significant, widespread damage throughout the state.

Alabama Power is having to deal with downed poles and trees that knocked out wires. The company’s crews are working with more than 1,700 lineworkers and support personnel from 19 states and Canada.

Alabama Power said that its crews are working quickly and safely to restore power and will continue to work on restoring power over the weekend.

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Alabama Power storm team evaluators, line crews and support personnel worked throughout the day Thursday and Friday assessing damage and repairing poles and wires damaged in the storm.

Crews are working diligently and as quickly and safely as possible to restore service, the company said.

Remember that there are line crews working along roadways all across the state. Cities, counties and homeowners are still working on debris removal so drive slowly and give yourself more time to get where you are going while out.

Alabama Power warns everyone to stay away from downed power lines, as well as fallen trees and tree limbs that could be hiding downed lines. Always assume a downed line is still energized and poses a potentially deadly hazard.

If you spot a downed line, call Alabama Power at 1-800-888-2726 or local law enforcement and wait for trained crews to perform the potentially dangerous work of removing the line or any surrounding debris.

Hurricane season lasts until the end of November.

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Governor meets with VIP fourth grader

The discussion was described as “wide-ranging and productive.” The governor and McGriff covered everything from school to their love of dogs.

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey and fourth grade student Cate McGriff. (GOVERNOR'S OFFICE PHOTO)

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey invited a special guest to meet with her in the governor’s office on Friday: fourth grade student Cate McGriff, known for her impeccable impersonation of the governor.

The discussion was described as “wide-ranging and productive.” The governor and McGriff covered everything from school to their love of dogs.

Ivey asked McGriff what her favorite subject in school is, the governor’s office said. McGriff replied that it was math. She also told the governor that she wanted to attend Auburn University just like Ivey did.

Ivey asked Cate what she wanted to be when she grows up after she attends Auburn. McGriff said that she wants to be an engineer.

Ivey advised her to keep working hard on her math.

Gov. Kay Ivey and fourth grade student Cate McGriff. (GOVERNOR’S OFFICE PHOTO)

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Ivey shared that when she was a young intern for Gov. Lurleen Wallace, the only other woman to serve as governor in Alabama history, she had the opportunity to sit behind the governor’s desk. Ivey then asked Cate if she wanted to sit behind the desk, and they recreated the governor’s own photo behind Gov. Lurleen Wallace’s desk.

Cate and Ivey both were wearing their red “power suits” and Auburn face masks.

McGriff was joined by her parents and two siblings, Claire and Sam.

The McGriff family frequently tune in to the governor’s regular COVID press conferences. Cate also was given the chance to stand behind the lectern in the Old House Chamber.

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Governors frequently meet with very important people including presidents, CEOs, congressmen, senators, scientists, university presidents, state legislators, county commissioners, economic developers and fourth graders.

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