PHOENIX - A pair of cactus poachers who had been clearing out the thorny plants in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area for years are now paying the price.
One of the two, identified as Jerrid William Maloy of Arizona, as pleaded guilty to being involved in a black market scheme that involves stealing and selling pieces of the desert’s beauty.
"They were probably going for mature cactus, and in the desert, they take a long time to mature because there’s not a lot of rain, so they were going for the prize winners," said Irwin Lightstone, who serves as a board member of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America.
According to court documents, Maloy, along with another person named William Starr Schwartz, sold the stolen cacti online to buyers in more than 20 different countries. The pair admitted to trafficking four different types of cactus that are protected by international treaty. The illegal operation lasted over four years. Federal agents seized meth and cactus during the investigation.
Maloy has pleaded guilty to helping dig up hundreds of cacti from Lake Mead, and trade them for drugs. He agreed to three years of probation, and paying nearly $5,000 in fines. Maloy's trafficking partner was sentenced to 24 months in prison, and ordered to pay more than $22,000 in restitution to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Currently, there is a growing market for succulents, with people around the world looking to buy what people sometimes take for granted in Arizona: cactus. Members of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America often help law enforcement weed out traffickers.
"A number of us can go on the internet and see which plants are dug up from habitat," said Lightstone.
A large cluster of mature hedgehog cactus, or a large barrel cactus, could sell for hundreds of dollars each online.
"If you see a shot where they're selling plants with bare roots, no nursery is going to grow the plant and pull it out of the dirt and take pictures of it. Those are plants stolen from nature," said Lightstone.
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