Man to be extradited to Macon in polar bear rug case

A Canadian man who once lived and operated a personal care home in Sandersville is awaiting extradition from Canada back to Georgia in connection with a federal case over an alleged illegally sold polar bear rug.

Authorities in Macon said 55-year-old Dwight Hickey, who currently lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, broke American law when he had the approximately 5-foot-long rug shipped from Canada in June 2005 in order to sell the bear skin to raise proceeds for his struggling business.

Hickey is accused of bringing the rug into the U.S. without the proper Canadian export permit, thereby violating the U.S. Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.

An indictment filed in June 2006 in U.S. District Court in Macon states that in June 2005, Hickey “aided and abetted by others ... did unlawfully, knowingly, and intentionally engage in conduct that involved the importation, possession and sale of wildlife ... Ursus Maritimus, also known as polar bear rug” with a market value that exceeds $350.

An extradition order filed in February by the Attorney General of Canada on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office states Hickey sold the rug to a Sandersville man for $4,000 after telling the man the rug was imported legally.

“The (buyer) contacted U.S. authorities to determine the legality of owning the rug and was advised that the rug had to be imported with the proper documentation, namely a valid export permit from the country of export. (The buyer) then contacted Hickey seeking importation documentation and was advised by Hickey that Hickey would obtain the paperwork for him in Canada. (The buyer) never received the documentation,” according to the arrest papers.

Hickey appeared in Canadian court April 5 for an extradition hearing but he has yet to be returned to Georgia, according to authorities.

He faces six federal charges in connection with the shipment and sale of the bear rug, and he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines, said Sue McKinney, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Macon.

Max Wood, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, could not confirm when Hickey will face charges in Macon.

“We put in a request to Canadian authorities, and they act on it whenever they deem appropriate. Through a treaty agreement, we’re just waiting on them to follow through on the extradition request and we’ll go from there.

“It’s sort of on their timetable. We’re not a border district. I’m sure U.S. attorneys on the borders are very versed on those proceedings,” he said. “We’re optimistic the process will run its course.”

Wood declined to comment on the likelihood that Hickey’s extradition and the resulting court proceedings will be far more costly than the original cost or sale of the polar bear-skin rug.

“We enforce the law,” he said. “That’s just not a germane question.”

Hickey on Tuesday apologized for the incident, which he described as a misunderstanding.

“I’m sorry that all this has happened. It wasn’t done to undermine anybody,” he told The Telegraph by phone.

Hickey said that after moving from Bermuda to Middle Georgia in late 2004, he and his sister, a Sandersville resident, decided to open Southern Care Home, an assisted-living facility serving Central State Hospital patients.

The center, opening in February 2005, aimed to provide around-the-clock residential services and outpatient care and worked with a nursing agency out of Augusta called CRSA Health Services, Hickey said.

The Canadian said when he applied for U.S. immigration status in late April of that year, he sent for his clothes, which friends had packed and put away in storage after Hickey moved from the Northwest Territories.

When his boxes arrived in Sandersville, he said, one happened to contain the bear skin rug.

Hickey, who returned to Canada in the fall of 2005 and is currently working as a chef, said he kept the rug for a while before he sold it.

All of the cash, he said, was used to pay landlords who owned the building housing his financially strapped business.

“I did what I did out of compassion to make sure the clients in that house had a roof over their heads. I didn’t profit from the sale,” he said. “I just couldn’t see the residents of that house going back to a mental institution.”

Hickey said the buyer knew there were no permits for the rug during the sale and that he believed he was conducting a lawful dealing.

“The bear was not hunted. It was found dead on the tundra. I bought it from a taxidermist. They’re everywhere up there,” he said. “Nobody could give me a straight answer on anything when I called (the U.S.) Fish and Wildlife (Service). I wasn’t trying to hide anything.”

To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, call 744-4347.