Keith Foster, the owner of a now-closed antique and specialty shop in Middleburg, is facing a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison after pleading guilty Wednesday in an Alexandria courtroom to illegally transporting between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of items made from endangered species, migratory birds and other wildlife.
According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Foster, 60, a resident of Upperville, violated portions of the Lacey Act when he and his wife, Pam, owned The Outpost on South Madison Street in the village.
The shop was raided by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law-enforcement division on Nov. 16, 2017, and a number of items were loaded into a Penske truck that day and taken away.
The Fosters opened the Outpost in Middleburg in the fall of 2012. They had two other shops in Upperville, the Keep and the Cottage, also now both closed. Keith Foster also is a nationally-prominent golf architect who has designed or renovated a number of top courses in the U.S. and abroad.
He recently was retained to renovate prestigious Congressional Country Club in Bethesda and told a Fauquier Timesreporter this past October that the demands of that contract forced him to focus totally on his golf business and resulted in the decision to close the shop.
It could not immediately be determined if Pam Foster also is facing charges. Attempts to reach the Fosters via phone and email have so far not been successful.
The Outpost specialized in selling foreign-sourced merchandise, a portion of which included wildlife products made from endangered species such as crocodiles, sea turtles and sawfish.
The shop’s previous website included a description of itsmerchandise:“A curated bounty is personally sourced from our favorite places around the globe resulting in an unrivaled selection of exceptional antiques, fantastic home furnishings and unique gifts.”
According to court documents, to evade enforcement by Fish and Wildlife, Foster relied on a shipping company to falsify import records in order to hide wildlife items and avoid inspection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other law enforcement officials.
Those documents indicated that starting in December 2016, on numerous occasions Foster discussed with a customer, later revealed to be an undercover agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the unlawful nature of his conduct. He also told the undercover agent that it was illegal to import sawfish blades but that he intended to smuggle them, according to the Justice Department news release.
Foster told the agent, “Rest assured, I’m gonna bring more in ‘cause I’m the only fool in the States that probably wants to risk it,” the news release said.
In March and April 2017, Foster imported more than 100 undeclared wildlife items, including items protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the news release said.
They included sea turtle shell, sawfish blades, crocodile-skin bags, coral and mounted birds of prey. CITES is an international treaty that provides protection to fish, wildlife and plant populations that have been or could be harmed as a result of trade and restricts the international trade and transport of species threatened with extinction.
According to court documents, on April 12, 2017, Foster showed the undercover agent numerous wildlife pieces for sale, including sawfish blades, turtle shell, ivory, zebra hide, crocodile and various birds and bird parts.
Foster told him about smuggling wildlife and indicated he did not have the proper permits to purchase, export and later import some protected wildlife. He also discussed the dangers of being caught by United States Customs, the news release said.
That agent then purchased numerous wildlife items, including sawfish blades, a mounted barn owl and a jar made from sea turtle shell, all of which were previously smuggled by The Outpost.
As part of his plea agreement, Foster and The Outpost forfeited $275,000 and more than 175 items made from wildlife, which were previously smuggled and being offered for sale, the news release said.
Foster pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled on March 8, 2019. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors, the news release said.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Edward Grace, acting assistant director of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announced Foster’s plea agreement after U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon D. Kromberg is prosecuting the case, the news release said.
The case has been investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the news release said.
The Outpost’s current website only includes a home page with a message that reads “it’s been a wonderful adventure. Thanks for being part of it.”
The space on Madison Street it formally held is now occupied by a temporary thrift shop. It benefits Middleburg Humane and will close down after the holidays.
Reach Len Shapiro at email@example.com