By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Schafer, who was subsequently fined $1200 by the Singapore government for his role, says he is a bird dealer who normally does not deal with primates. He told the Singapore court and others that a "friend," a "former partner" had persuaded him to assist in facilitating the illegal deal.
Those involved in the affair, including Schafer, often communicated with each other by fax machine, sending letters around the world electronically. One of those faxed letters, transmitted to Schafer in Singapore, has since become the center of heated debate as to its significance. Dated November 24, 1989, it
PLS MAKE SURE YOU PHONE ME JUST B E F O R E SENDING SHIPMENT FROM SINGAPORE TO MY HOUSE. THE PHONE (305) ___-____ - SUGGEST YOU PHONE ABOUT 2-3 PM SIN TIME JUST IN CASE I RCV ANY LAST MINUTE NEWS FROM MOS. PLS BE CAREFUL ABT CARRYING DOCUMENTS WITH MY NAME, COPIES OF TLX ETC ON YR PERSON OR BAGS - JUST IN CASE YOU HV ANY PROBLEMS - AS WE WILL HV MORE SHIT THEN YOU - HOPEFULLY ALL GOES OK - BUT PLS BE CAREFUL ABT DOCUMENTS N ALSO THE PHONES.
PS DONT SEND TOO MANY BIRDS - FEWEST POSS.
The message was signed this way: M. The phone number, deleted from this article, rings a Bell South Mobility number that is out of service. When reporters from the British Broadcasting Corporation dialed the number earlier this year, however, they reached Block's South Dade home. McGreal says a member of her group also called and verified that the number belonged to Block. (When a Bell South customer disconnects service or asks for a new number, the old number is recycled within 90 days, company service representatives say.)
Block would not respond to questions from New Times regarding the meaning of that letter. However, in an interview last year with the Miami Herald, he admitted he had sent that fax (along with others) to Schafer, but that they referred to a half-dozen hornbill birds the Soviets wanted to buy legally.
Another fax obtained by McGreal, dated four days after the one to Schafer and also signed M, provided instructions to a Singapore animal trader. It read:
IMPORTANT THAT CONTRACT NUMBER MUST APPEAR ON EACH CRATE (IN ONE CORNER) AND ALSO ON AIRBILL.
CONTRACT NUMBER IS 589/1859730/94-122
According to McGreal and BBC journalists who later investigated the Bangkok Six incident, Thai authorities found that contract number stenciled on the crates containing the baby orangutans and gibbons.
McGreal also received a copy of a faxed letter, allegedly from a Soviet animal-importing agency to Schafer in Thailand, that read, "PLS URGENTLY ADVISE WHEN EXACTLY CAN 3/3 ORANGS BE EXPECTED."
McGreal, convinced of the documents' authenticity and alert to their potentially damning implications, shipped off copies in May of last year to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In the coming months, she would provide law enforcement officials with more information, including a summary of a telephone conversation she had with Kurt Schafer on July 12, 1990. McGreal, in a sworn affidavit, wrote that Schafer had called her from Thailand, "extremely anxious to meet me in person to discuss the `Bangkok Six' orangutan deal.... Mr. Schafer asked if I knew who gave the papers relating to the shipment to the German wildlife department. I said I did not, and he said that he had provided the papers.
"Schafer stated that he had been asked to carry the orangutans," McGreal continued in her affidavit, "by Mr. Matthew Block and that he would explain the exact circumstances when he met me.... He said he was `shocked' on learning about how orangutans were caught and how these particular animals had been shipped."
McGreal's letters, documents, and entreaties finally gained an audience with U.S. officials, though apparently the ensuing investigation was slow to gain momentum. It wasn't until recently that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami officially contacted Kurt Schafer to express interest in questioning him. In a letter dated August 14, 1991, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Priegues wrote to Schafer in Germany: "The United States Department of Justice and a federal grand jury are investigating violations of federal criminal law arising out of the sale and transportation of six live orangutans in foreign commerce." Priegues's letter went on to explain that Schafer was not considered a target of the investigation and that investigators wanted to speak with him only as a witness. While Matthew Block is not identified as the target, his name is mentioned. "I have spoken with Michael Metzger, Esq.," Priegues wrote, "who informed me that he is not representing you due to a potential conflict of interest arising from his prior representation of Matthew Block."
Priegues and Terry English, an agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whose name is included in the letter, would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation is underway, much less whether Block is its target. And although Block's lawyers deny he is guilty of any wrongdoing, they leave little doubt he is at the center of an onging probe. "Mr. Block's company is in compliance with all the laws," says Miami attorney Jon A. Sale. "Our view is that the entire U.S. Attorney's investigation is being pressured and pushed by Shirley McGreal and her people, and they have their own motives. Any information given to the U.S. Attorney's Office by her group we think is false."