A New York collector pleads guilty to smuggling rare birdwing butterflies

NEW YORK — A Long Island man has pleaded guilty to illegally trafficking in birdwing butterflies and other rare insects, according to a plea deal filed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn.

Charles Limmer, 75, of Commack, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to smuggle wildlife into the country and agreed to pay a $30,215 fine and turn over his collection of about 1,000 butterflies, moths and other insects. He faces up to 5 years in prison if convicted.

Dried specimens include birdwing butterflies, which are among the rarest and largest in the world.

Limmer was indicted last year on six counts related to wildlife trafficking, including violations of the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits false labeling and wildlife trafficking. If convicted at trial, he could have faced up to 20 years in prison.

They said Limmer circumvented U.S. laws by labeling shipments as “decorative wall coverings,” “origami paper” and “wall decorations.” He sold some of the dried lepidopteran specimens through an eBay account under the name “limmerleps,” pocketing tens of thousands of dollars.

Federal prosecutors said Limmer worked with foreign collaborators to smuggle about 1,000 lepidoptera, including some of the world’s most endangered moths and butterflies, even after his import/export license was suspended in October 2022.

Federal law prohibits the commercial export or import of wildlife without authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Limmer’s attorney did not immediately comment Wednesday.