LOS ANGELES (AP) - The smell struck undercover agent Ed Newcomer as soon as he entered the small, sparse apartment.
smiled affably, the wide-eyed neophyte being inducted by the master.It was a role that Newcomer, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, had been perfecting for two weeks.
tape recorder had accidentally shut off.His
cellphone was broken.His
backup agent was lost in traffic.If the backup couldn't make contact soon, he
would call the police.
It was Newcomer's
first undercover case.He
had won the trust of the world's most notorious butterfly smuggler, a man who made hundreds of thousands of dollars trading in endangered insects.He
had been invited into the suspect's home.
Yet if he
didn't leave in minutes his
cover could be blown.
When an informant tipped off agents that Kojima
would be attending the annual insect fair at Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History
in May 2003, Newcomer
was put on the case.
is trim and athletic, with an easygoing manner.He
had left behind his
gun and his
had assumed a false name.And he
had honed his
story: how, bored by the business he
had inherited from his
was looking for a hobby that could also become an investment.
wondered what the beetle looked like alive.
Is that legal?Newcomer
Into this world, Newcomer
immersed himself.There are about 18,000 known species of butterfly.Newcomer
started learning their names, their markings, the prices that rare ones bring.
At work Newcomer became known as "the butterfly agent."Undercover, he
was becoming "Yoshi's friend."
invented a father and girlfriends.Kojima
the delicate art of moistening the wings of dead butterflies so they could be unfolded and pinned precisely to mounting boards.
suggested that the two men start an EBay account together: Kojima
would provide the specimens and Newcomer
would run the Internet side.
As part of the deal Kojima gave Newcomer
a disc containing photographs of his
alerted U.S. Customs.Then he
served subpoenas for Kojima's
U.S. bank accounts.
Nearly four months passed and Newcomer
was beginning to worry.He
had given Kojima
a fake home address and a special cellphone number.He
chance.Trolling the chat rooms of insectnet.com, he
noticed other dealers complaining about Kojima
could vouch for "Yoshi," he
was working with him and could get anything from his
Dealers contacted Newcomer
, telling him he'd found new customers and asking for specimens.
decided to set up a decoy EBay account.He
would use butterfly photographs from the disc Kojima had given him and rig auctions so that the specimens would go for exorbitant prices to other undercover officers.He
would prove to Kojima
, once and for all, that he
was serious about making money in the butterfly business.
Once again the plan backfired.Kojima
wrote angry notes to Newcomer
accusing him of stealing his photographs.
...Next, the local game warden's office called and told Newcomer about a tip it had received from a Japanese insect dealer who mistakenly thought he was contacting Fish and Wildlife.
pretended to have built up a trusted base of customers, including one who would pay top dollar for a Queen Alexandra.
Using his web camera, Kojima
would show specimens from Japan that Newcomer
could purchase and sell to his customers.
...A month later Newcomer found himself staring at a grainy image of Kojima on his computer screen.
had spent $14,997 on 42 butterflies in two months of Skype exchanges.He
estimated the black market value of all the butterflies that Kojima
had offered him at $294,000.Newcomer
had all the proof he