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Virginia man pleads guilty to selling whale teeth

By Matthew A. Ward

CHESAPEAKE, Va (Reuters) - A Virginia man pleaded guilty on Monday to felony charges for selling sperm whale teeth he imported from Ukraine over the Internet, the Department of Justice said.

While pleading guilty to two felony violations of the Lacey Act for trading in endangered marine mammal parts, Richard Ertel admitted in U.S. District Court in Richmond to doing much of his business online between April 2002 and June 2007.

Officials indicated the teeth, which can attract large sums of money from tourists and collectors, were likely being used for scrimshaw -- the etching, engraving or carving of any bone or tooth from whale, dolphin or porpoise.

Sperm whales are considered as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and it is illegal to import parts of sperm whales into the U.S. without obtaining prior authorization.

Ertel, of Spotsylvania, Virginia, faces up to five years in jail and fines of up to $250,000 for each count. Sentencing was set for January 9.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)