Lawrence Small, chief executive of the Smithsonian Institution, is expected to plead guilty tomorrow to a federal misdemeanor charge for illegally importing a bird feather, reports the Washington Post. Small, whose Smithsonian title is Secretary, is not expected to lose his job.
The newspaper said the investigation into Small’s tribal art collection started with a telephone call in November 2000 to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service alleging that published pictures of his artifacts showed feathers from endangered species. The caller suggested that the agency review articles about the collection that appeared in Smithsonian magazine and The Washington Post. “The article photos depicted feathers from various protected species of birds,” said an agency report obtained by the Post under the federal Freedom of Information Act. An internal recommendation was made in March 2001 that the case be closed without action, but it was reopened a few months later after new complaints were received. The investigation determined that the collection contained parts of endangered species of birds, including the jabiru, roseate spoonbill, and crested caracara.
The case is being heard in Raleigh, N.C., because the items involved were purchased in the state in 1998. Small is not expected to receive a fine or prison time; he is turning over some feathered art objects to the government.
Small became secretary of the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum complex, in January 2000, about two years after the purchase. In the federal file, Small is quoted as saying, “I can state categorically that I have no knowledge that any species in the collection is listed under the Endangered Species Act or that [redacted] imported any pieces in the collection other than in a lawful manner.” It was not clear why the investigation was reopened after being closed.