The Nation

Busting the Bad Guys: Criminal Enforcement of Environmental Laws


They’re like the expendables, the movie characters.

They are a team of four individuals, each finding a way to catch the bad guys. They all speak about special agents and name operations that seem to have been taken out of a Hollywood spy thriller.

In the SEJ conference session “Busting the Bad Guys,” speakers Luis Santiago, special agent-in-charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Author Laurel Neme, Jerry Phillips, director of the Florida chapter for the Public Employees for Environmental Response, and Mike Fisher, deputy director of the EPA, each addressed how their agencies are finding ways of dealing with violators of environmental laws.

Santiago, whose office employs 220 agents, and Fisher, whose office employees 18,000 people, each said that their offices investigate and prosecute violators.

“We are not beat cops,” Fisher said.

He was quick to point out that the EPA has detective and plainclothes officers that work together with scientists and forensics who do the analytical work.

Phillips’ group, though not involved directly with law enforcement, makes sure that these agencies are aware of the environmental problems at any given moment. He added that these employees are worried about the political climate and the possible budget cuts that agencies like EPA could have.

Neme, another non-law enforcement agent, is the author of the book Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species. She told the audience that the killing of wild animals is a huge business.

“The penalties may seem high (for the perpetrators), but compare it to price of the things being traded,” said Neme.

Each speaker spoke about cases that are both national and international. Cases that are currently under investigations and cases where they’re just awaiting a trial date.

A lot of the examples of crimes mentioned by Santiago and Fisher have been types of businesses that would have generated from thousands to millions of dollars illegally if these law enforcement agencies would not have been there to bust them.

More like this: Panel Discussions

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