Endangered species smuggling growing problem for Oregon

The recent arrest of a Forest Grove man on charges of smuggling endangered species points to a larger problem and a growing demand here in Oregon, according to federal agents.

At a warehouse in Wilsonville, investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service store hundreds of items made from endangered species that were smuggled into or out of Oregon.

The items are evidence in ongoing local cases. Most recently, agents capped a three-year investigation with the arrests of two Malaysian men they say were responsible for selling close to $100,000 worth of items made from protected and endangered species.

"This is a problem here," Resident Agent in Charge Sheila O'Connor said. "These are high-dollar items. You can go to prison for this stuff."

Agents identified the men with the cooperation of the suspect from Forest Grove, identified in court documents as Gary Holstrom.

Investigators began looking into Holstrom in 2011 after customs agents discovered the skull of a macaque - a monkey native to Southeast Asia - in a box addressed to Holstrom.

According to court documents, Holstrom bought items from overseas and re-sold them on his website. In 2014, he sold two orangutan skulls to an undercover wildlife agent.

Federal agents obtained a warrant to search Holstrom's home that summer, and he became a cooperating witness.

With Holstrom's cooperation, investigators were able to communicate with the two Malaysian businessmen Holstrom purchased his items from.

"The conversations were all over email, and they were very open about where they obtained the skulls and the wildlife," said the investigating agent, who asked not to be identified by name.

Through a series of emails, the agent, posing as an interested buyer, was able to arrange a meeting with the men on U.S. soil.

The men were arrested after the meeting, and eventually sentenced to six months in prison and fined $12,500.