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Buying tiger skin for $3,000 costs Cincinnati 'Tiger King' $100,000

Ryan J. Gibbs has to forfeit stuffed wildlife menagerie
Ryan Gibbs' tiger skin
Posted at 3:48 PM, Aug 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-12 16:13:54-04

CINCINNATI — A Cincinnati man’s story may not be as strange as ”Tiger King,” but buying an illegal tiger skin for $3,000 ended up costing him more than $100,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cincinnati.

Ryan J. Gibbs, 44, collected a wildlife menagerie that included a stuffed lion, a panther skin, a mounted flamingo, two stuffed puffins and a sawfish rostrum (the bill or beak of the sawfish), officials said. He agreed to turn them over as part of a plea deal Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Columbus, where Gibbs pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act.

Gibbs bought the tiger skin from an undercover agent during a sting operation in August 2019, officials said.

The feds laid the trap about a year earlier after Gibbs contacted a man in the United Kingdom about buying a tiger skin, according to court documents. The man told Gibbs he could not legally ship a tiger skin to the U.S., but he knew someone in Minnesota who had tiger skins.

Gibbs started emailing and calling the second man, who was actually a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and said he wanted to buy a tiger skin and a mounted flamingo. After Gibbs and the agent discussed the illegality of buying and selling tiger parts, the two men met near Jeffersonville, Ohio in December 2018, according to a release. Gibbs bought three mounted birds from the agent – a tufted puffin, a horned puffin and a flamingo - for $1,200.

After that, Gibbs and the agent communicated intermittently about the tiger skin and met again near Jeffersonville in August 2019, where Gibbs bought it for $3,000.

The plea agreement requires Gibbs to pay $100,000 to the Lacey Act Reward Account, a federal fund used to provide rewards for tipsters in illegal wildlife trade cases. He must also serve one year of probation and perform 80 hours of community service, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

David M. DeVillers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, announced the plea along with the Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office.