Lumber Liquidators pleaded guilty Thursday to environmental crimes related to importing flooring manufactured in China from timber illegally logged in eastern Russia, the habitat for the world's last remaining Siberian tigers and Amur leopards.
The Toano, Virginia-based company entered a plea agreement to one felony and four misdemeanors in U.S. District Court. As part of the agreement, the company agreed to pay $13.2 million to end a federal investigation. The Justice Department said the financial penalty is the largest ever imposed for illegal timber trafficking.
Sentencing was set for Feb. 1.
According to a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Lumber Liquidators should have known the flooring manufactured in China was made from illegally sourced Mongolian oak. However, the company failed to heed "red flags" as required by the company's own internal procedures, the court papers say.
"Lumber Liquidators' race to profit resulted in the plundering of forests and wildlife habitat that, if continued, could spell the end of the Siberian tiger," Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden said in a written statement.
The government says the illegally harvested oak came from forests that are home to the last 450 wild Siberian tigers and some of the fewer than 50 remaining Amur leopards.
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The plea agreement is unrelated to the controversy over some of Lumber Liquidators' laminate flooring from China, which CBS' "60 Minutes" has reported contains high levels of the carcinogen formaldehyde.
More than half of the financial penalty is a criminal fine. The company also will pay $1.23 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the foundation's Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, along with a $3.2 million civil fine.