Santa Fe businessman Charles Kokesh has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Pensacola, Fla., on charges of violating the Endangered Species Act by selling two elephant tusks — the latest in a litany of legal problems for the venture capitalist.
According to the three-count indictment returned Wednesday, Kokesh legally imported a “sport-hunted elephant trophy mount” from the African country of Namibia, but illegally sold the two tusks to a buyer in Florida for $8,100, to be paid with a combination of currency and guns.
After the sale, Kokesh allegedly lied about it in an email to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by claiming the tusks had been shipped to an appraiser in anticipation of a donation to a nonprofit. He also is accused of giving false information about the location and disposition of the tusks.
The maximum penalty for the violation of the Endangered Species Act is up to six months in prison and a $25,000 fine. The Lacy Act makes a false statement punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Kokesh, 65, was not available for comment Friday. No one answered the buzzer of the closed gate of his home at 708 Camino Corrales — a property that he is ordered by court to vacate by May 31.
Thornburg Mortgage Home Loans Inc. sued Charles and Marla Kokesh for foreclosure in 2008, claiming the couple defaulted on a $4.3 million debt on the property.
An April 1 petition from the lawyers for U.S. Bank National Association, the successor to Thornburg Mortgage Home Loans, accused Kokesh of using improper stalling tactics to remain in the house rent-free for five years, despite a summary judgment in the case four years ago. “It is time Defendants moved out,” they wrote. “It is time for this case to end.”
The plea may have been in reference to a March 20 affidavit from Marla Kokesh, who said that as a psychiatrist and enrolled member of a Chippewa band, she is working with the Hopi tribe in Arizona and will not return to Santa Fe until April 4.
On April 24, state District Judge Sarah Singleton set midnight May 31 as the deadline for the Kokeshes to leave their home or to pay a penalty of $750 per day after that date.
Kokesh is also negotiating with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which accuses him of misappropriating $45 million from investors from his days as a venture capitalist in California. The SEC says this is the first case it has ever brought in New Mexico.
Kokesh, a licensed attorney, moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Santa Fe in the 1990s after the SEC turned down his bid to allow people to invest in his venture-capital schemes over the phone using credit cards. He initially bought the Santa Fe Horse Park so that he and his friends would have a place to play polo. But in 2007, Los Alamos National Bank filed for foreclosure on that property, claiming Kokesh was in default on a note of about $2.25 million.
That was followed by the repossession of Kokesh’s luxury motor home and other lawsuits alleging unpaid debts by Kokesh and his wife.
Kokesh’s most recent job was as chief executive officer of Dakota Arms in Sturgis, S.D. He sold the rifle-manufacturing plant to Remington in 2009. That year, he donated a Dakota Arms rifle to a Republican fundraiser in Santa Fe, joking that “I certainly wouldn’t oppose shooting all of the corrupt lawyers and Democrats.”
According to a Wednesday news release from the U.S. Department of Justice announcing the indictments against Charles Kokesh, African elephants are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), of which both the United States and Namibia are signatories.
The release says the CITES treaty states that elephant species in Namibia are not necessarily threatened with extinction now, but may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is strictly regulated. Since 2000, the Namibian African elephant listing has specified that the species cannot be used for commercial purposes.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.