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Utahn illegally imported animal skeletons, dried bugs for sale as art, feds say

Jean-Michel Arrigona, the owner of Natur in Midvale, loves bugs. He buys insects from people all over the world and then puts them in frames. Prices range from $7 to $1,800.
Jean-Michel Arrigona, the owner of Natur in Midvale, is photographed in 2013. He buys insects from people all over the world and then puts them in frames. New federal charges accuse him of illegally importing animal skeletons, taxidermy mounts and dried insects into the United States.
Winston Armani, Deseret News

MIDVALE — A Utah man faces federal criminal charges accusing him of illegally importing animal skeletons, taxidermy mounts and dried insects into the United States to sell in his Midvale store.

The Department of Justice alleges Jean-Michel Arrigona brought hundreds of wildlife items into the country over a five-year period without declaring them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or customs authorities. He resold the specimens from his store called Natur and its website as art and jewelry.

A federal indictment unsealed Wednesday charges Arrigona with violating the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. Arrigona did not import any live animals, authorities said.

The Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest wildlife trafficking law and prohibits selling wildlife that had been illegally brought into the country. The Endangered Species Act and federal regulations require importers to declare wildlife when it enters the country.

20140402 Jean-Michel Arrigona, the owner of Natur, collects bugs from all around the world. The colors, texture and shine are all natural.
Jean-Michel Arrigona, the owner of Natur, collects bugs from all around the world. The colors, texture and shine are all natural.
Winston Armani, Deseret News

Arrigona imported about 460 items, primarily from Indonesia, from December 2015 to September 2020 without declaring, according to the indictment. The items include bat skeletons, dried lizards, flying fox skulls, and keychains and paperweights containing insects, arachnids and crustaceans.

Some of the wildlife, such as the flying fox and monitor lizard, are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which regulates trade in endangered or threatened species through permit requirements. The United States and 182 other countries are part of the agreement.

Natur sells specimens or bones in frames, under glass domes, in taxidermy mounts and as jewelry. Its website touts the item as museum quality insects and artifacts. A call to the telephone number listed on the website went to a voice message saying the store would be closed through the Thanksgiving holiday.

Arrigona, 58, is charged with two counts of wildlife trafficking under the Lacey Act and one count of violating the Endangered Species Act. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court next month.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in Redmond, Washington, conducted the investigation as part of Operation Global Reach. It focused on the trafficking of wildlife from Indonesia to the United States.

This 2013 photo shows framed insects at Natur in Midvale. Owner Jean-Michel Arrigona loves bugs. He started putting them in frames as a hobby. Now he does it full time. New federal charges accuse him of illegally importing animal skeletons, taxidermy mounts and dried insects into the United States.
This 2013 photo shows framed insects at Natur in Midvale. Owner Jean-Michel Arrigona loves bugs. He started putting them in frames as a hobby. Now he does it full time. New federal charges accuse him of illegally importing animal skeletons, taxidermy mounts and dried insects into the United States.
Winston Armani, Deseret News