Ex-whaling commission chief indicted on theft charges

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 27, 2011 11:18 PM
Ex-whaling commission chief indicted on theft charges

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The former top administrator of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission has been indicted on charges of embezzling more than $100,000 from the agency, federal prosecutors said on Monday.

Teresa Judkins, chief executive of the commission from 2007 until she was fired in 2008, is accused of raiding the agency's coffers to pay for personal air travel, the purchase of a snowmobile and other benefits to herself and her family.

The commission, based in Barrow, oversees traditional subsistence whaling in Alaska's northern coastal villages and represents native whalers before the International Whaling Commission. The agency is led by a board of whaling captains from different villages who hire the executive director.

The AEWC holds a relatively high profile in global whaling concerns, advocating for relatively small subsistence hunts and habitat protection but opposing commercial hunting.

The commission also negotiates with government agencies and oil companies over potential impacts to whales and hunters and conducts research and educational projects concerning the endangered bowhead whale and its connection to native culture.

Under federal law, Alaska natives may hunt whales but only for traditional use and not for commercial purposes. In the United States, non-natives are barred from hunting any marine mammals, according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Judkins, 51, was charged with two counts each of theft, fraud and misapplication from an organization receiving federal funds. The maximum penalty for each count is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, federal officials said.

The indictment against Judkins was returned by an Anchorage grand jury last week. The indictment alleges only financial misconduct and no impact on AEWC policy.

Officials with the AEWC were not available on Monday to comment on the indictment. The group's leaders were out of the office, attending events associated with Nalukataq, the annual summer whaling festival held in Barrow, a spokeswoman said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan)