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El Paso man pleads guilty to illegally selling protected cacti – Border Report

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — An El Paso man on Tuesday admitted in federal court to illegally selling protected living rock cactus plants.

Harry George Bock, II, pleaded guilty to one county of mislabeled exports. According to court records, Bock conspired with others between May 2017 and August 2018 to submit false identification of actual living rock cactus — a protected species –– with intent to export and sell plants.

In 2012, Texas Special Agents uncovered a trafficking organization smuggling thousands of the protected living rock cactus from the Big Bend region. As part of their investigation, six search warrants were executed on homes in remote areas of far Southwest Texas, where the cacti naturally occur. The living rock cacti were advertised through internet sales and purchased from individuals in Europe and Asia. Several shipments containing the cacti were intercepted at international mail facilities and found to be falsely labeled, which led to the felony charges for the sellers.

“When you mess with protected Texas cacti, you’re messing with Texas. My office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect our State’s natural heritage,” U.S. Attorney John F. Bash said in a statement.

The living rock cactus plants, known as Ariocarpus fissuratus, is a species of cactus found in small numbers in limestone-rich soil in northern Mexico and Texas. They are commonly identified by their pinkish flowers which bloom in October and early November. The cactus is unique in that it’s been used by Native American tribes as a mind-altering substance, usually as a weaker substitutes for peyote.

The living rock cacti are protected through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and listed as Appendix I protected plant species that prohibit foreign commerce. The CITES Appendix I listing categories the species as threatened with extinction and limits international movements to scientific research and zoological display

Bock remains on bond pending formal sentencing. Five others have been prosecuted and sentenced in relation to the cacti scheme.

The cacti seized as part of the investigation were donated to non-profit entities through assistance from Sul Ross State University.