Retired RCMP constable Gregory Logan | Images via CP and Facebook

How a Retired Mountie Became America’s Most Wanted Wildlife Smuggler

RCMP constable Gregory Logan illegally sold millions of dollars worth of narwhal tusks before he was caught in an elaborate cross-border sting.

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Dec 12 2017, 3:57pm

Retired RCMP constable Gregory Logan | Images via CP and Facebook

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now certain Gregory Logan would never have become a criminal if he had not been a cop first.

His early criminal ventures were tentative and cautious, but the nondescript Mountie from Saint John, New Brunswick would evolve into the criminal mastermind behind one of the biggest and most brazen wildlife smuggling rings ever uncovered in the US.

Early in his policing career, Logan was stationed in the Canadian Arctic, patrolling Iqaluit and remote communities along the northeastern tip of Hudson Bay. It was here that he learned about the immense value of one of the strangest mammals on the planet—the narwhal, also known as “the unicorn of the sea.”

In the Canadian Arctic and Greenland where these whales are found, it is still legal for Inuit to harvest limited numbers each year—their blubber is a delicacy—but what caught Logan’s attention were the ivory tusks that protrude from the male narwhal’s head. These uniquely winding ivory tusks—actually an overgrown tooth whose evolutionary purpose still baffles scientists—can reach three metres in length and are coveted by antique dealers and private wildlife collectors. They are particularly valuable in the US, where importation of Canadian mammal ivory is illegal.

Narwhal photo courtesy Glenn Williams

Logan began legally buying narwhal tusks from his Arctic contacts while still on active duty. He left the Arctic, and by 1999 he was selling them in Canada, where it is legal if sold with the proper permits. But the real money in narwhal ivory is importing it into the US, where a 1972 import ban has unwittingly created an extremely lucrative black market.

In May of 1999, an Ohio-based special agent with the US Fish & Wildlife Service noticed an unusual item for sale on eBay: a narwhal tusk. The agent eventually seized the tusk, and on further investigation, discovered that the American eBay seller had bought it from a Canadian named Gregory Logan.

The agent confronted Logan, who even though selling the narwhal as a private citizen, identified himself as an RCMP Officer. In his faxes to the agent—all on RCMP letterhead—he denied knowledge that exporting the tusks were illegal.

“Having completed almost 25 years [sic] service in the Mounted Police,” he wrote in one 1999 fax that would later be used as evidence against him, “it would not be my position or intention to knowingly avoid the laws of any country.”

Copy of the police ID Logan used to sell and deliver illegal tusks. Image via court records

A key part of his modus operandi from this point forward was to abuse the trust associated with his RCMP status, to suppress suspicion of his criminal behaviour, even after retiring in 2002. In the end, the American eBay seller was convicted of wildlife offences, while Logan was given the benefit of the doubt. He was let off with a warning.

This first encounter with the law did not deter Logan from selling more narwhal ivory in the US. “Rather than resume a law-abiding life,” wrote his US prosecutors later, “he devised a complex plan to smuggle an inconceivably large number of narwhal tusks into the United States and send the proceeds from the sales of those tusks to Canada.”

The payoff was high, but Logan was playing a risky game. The fatal flaw in his entire operation—as his first eBay customer presaged—was that some of his US customers, if confronted with potential jail time for their complicity in smuggling narwhal tusks, were more than willing to give him up in exchange for reduced jail time.

***

On a sunny day in August 2009, Gregory Logan and his wife Nina left their summer home near Saint John New Brunswick to embark on a road trip. Their passage through the Calais border crossing into Maine was uneventful, as was their drive into Bangor. We know this because every step of the journey was shadowed by agents from a joint Canada-US smuggling investigation dubbed Operation Longtooth—focused on Logan’s now-thriving ivory smuggling business.

Tusks were hidden underneath Logan's truck and trailer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

On this day Logan was carrying two felt-wrapped narwhal tusks, both about two metres long, hidden in the modified undercarriage of his truck. Once safely across the border, he unloaded and repackaged them before driving to a Bangor FedEx store, where the package was shipped to a US customer. The deal on this day had been set up by one of Logan’s regular US buyers, who would act as a middleman and find end-buyers for the ivory.

What follows was the typical MO for Logan. He would buy tusks legally from the Inuit supplier Arctic Co-ops and fly them to Winnipeg. From there, they were trucked to New Brunswick, where Logan took legal possession. By this point, Logan had established a US address (a P.O. Box in Maine) and bank accounts in Maine and Texas to channel his payments through. This entailed manipulating legitimate businesses on the US side to enable his smuggling and handling of the proceeds of crime, all smoothed over by his friendly cop routine.

Les Sampson, a recently-retired wildlife officer with Environment Canada who was Operation Longtooth’s lead investigator, told VICE the former Mountie relied on his RCMP ID (which is kept even upon retirement) to avoid suspicion across his entire criminal enterprise, especially when crossing borders. “Going across a border, if you’re a law enforcement officer, once you show that ID, it’s very, very rare that you will get examined or looked at.”

The problem for Logan on his summer 2009 road trip was not the border, but the fact that he had been ratted out. Unbeknownst to Logan, one of his regular partners had been busted and agreed to set up the transaction to snare Logan. (The customer’s cooperation came on the condition that they would not be identified by name as a turncoat). The end customer on this day, who was to receive narwhal tusks by FedEx, was a US Fish and Wildlife agent.

Gregory and wife Nina Logan appear in a Facebook photo dated January 2008

Logan and his wife Nina were eventually charged with violating Canada’s Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act. In exchange to pleading guilty to some of the smuggling charges, Logan insisted all charges against his wife be dropped.

Beyond getting caught red handed, revelations of his earlier 1999 eBay warning sealed his fate: he could not claim to be ignorant about breaking the law.

At his 2013 New Brunswick trial, the full scope of his enterprise was revealed: between 2000 to 2011, he smuggled at least $2 million worth of narwhal tusks in 46 separate transactions to an online network of US ivory collectors and illicit dealers. He also smuggled illegal walrus ivory tusks but was not charged.

It emerged that a long, high-quality tusk could fetch as much as $5,000 (US) on the black market, and as much as $20,000 if the seller could prove the tusk was in the US before 1972. In search of ever-larger profits, Logan used his RCMP status, Maine address (some of Logan’s customers never knew the source of the tusks was Canada) and his talent for falsifying paperwork to make his narwhal tusks appear legit—and much more profitable.

***

In pleading guilty Logan accepted responsibility for his crimes, but his defence team sought to demystify Logan’s turn to criminality by detailing the toll of decades of physical and psychological damage from frontline police work. By the time he was 45 years old, the court heard, Logan was considered unfit for active service and assumed office duties up to retirement. An affidavit filed by the defendant included the following:

  • Logan once found a dead child on a sandbar, whose leg detached from the body as he attempted to transfer the remains onto a boat;
  • He was forced to retrieve a badly-damaged, detached human head following a traffic accident, placing it into a body bag with the deceased’s remains;
  • Attending the scene of a bear attack, Logan confronted a young woman whose stomach was clawed open and foot almost severed from the leg.

It’s unclear what impact Logan’s trauma—which led to a diagnosis of PTSD in 2004—had on the court outcome. At sentencing in October 2013, he was ordered to pay almost $400,000—a record fine in Canada for wildlife smuggling—but he did not go to jail. Despite the latter, Operation Longtooth remains one of the most successful Canada-US wildlife crime investigations in North American history.

Logan dodged a bullet by avoiding jail, but he could not breathe easy, because the Americans wanted him too. He fought extradition to the US where he faced multiple counts of conspiracy, smuggling, and money laundering associated with the Operation Longtooth bust, but failed. On September 28, 2016, Logan found himself in a US District Court in Bangor, where he plead guilty and threw himself on the mercy of the court.

Narwhal tusks seized from one of Logan's customers who went undercover to help US authorities bust Logan. Photo courtesy US attorney's office

“The narwhal whale is worth more to the rest of us alive than it could possibly be to someone dead,” Judge John Woodcock said at the August 2017 sentencing. At this point he paused and stared Logan down: “when law enforcers become law breakers, it causes the rest of society to despair.”

Les Sampson, who had seen Logan multiple times in the past and attended the sentencing, found it hard to recognize the former Mountie—who stood for most of the proceedings to ease a back injury caused by a car collision with a moose in the Canadian north.

“Greg Logan went from being an arrogant man when I first charged him, to being in US court in a prison uniform, handcuffs and shackles,” recalled Sampson. “He was basically a broken man.”

As of this writing Gregory Logan, now 60 years old, is incarcerated in a federal prison in Pennsylvania, where he is facing an uncomfortable stay—his law enforcement past will necessitate isolation from his fellow convicts. But the US sentence may not be the end of it: Logan could face more jail time in Canada when he gets out, because, he has not paid off his $385,000 fine—the estimated proceeds from his crimes—imposed as punishment in his 2013 New Brunswick smuggling conviction.

Follow Christopher Pollon on Twitter.

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