Lock a Block

An appeals court nudges convicted orangutan smuggler Matthew Block a little closer to prison

A government informant usually expects prosecutors to file a motion with the court recounting the informant's cooperation and asking the judge for leniency, and Block was no exception; his plea agreement states that the government will make the motion "if...the circumstances of the defendant's cooperation warrant...." But at Block's sentencing, prosecutor Guy Lewis told Judge Kehoe he wasn't going to file the motion, alleging that Block had altered case documents and had been planning an illegal deal with one of his Bangkok Six co-conspirators even while cooperating with the government. Though Block denied Lewis's allegations, the judge was obligated to follow strict sentencing guidelines and ordered Block to serve thirteen months in prison and to pay a $30,000 fine. Declaring his client to have been a "super-snitch" duped by untrustworthy prosecutors, an indignant Metzger launched a campaign against the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, taking out ads in legal publications decrying the government's treatment of the animal trader.

Almost a year after the sentencing, as briefs were being filed on both sides in the appeal, Metzger committed suicide. Several months later, his friend and colleague Osterhoudt agreed to take on the case.

Animal rights activists, many of whom have said they won't be satisfied until Block is run out of the animal-import business entirely, are rejoicing cautiously over the appellate court's affirmation. Shirley McGreal, chairwoman of the South Carolina-based International Primate Protection League and chief among Block's accusers since the outset of the case, still complains that the government has been sluggish and halfhearted in its prosecution of one of the world's most prominent animal dealers. But she'll be somewhat mollified if Block does indeed spend time in prison, she says. "I don't particularly take any pleasure in a human being losing his freedom," McGreal comments. "But I also think it is a very educational experience, and I think it's important that Matthew Block go to jail to repay his debt to society.

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