Authorities in Florida allege that smugglers snatched thousands of protected turtles from their natural habitat and shipped them to China to be sold in pet stores. As reported by the Sun-Sentinel, nearly 6000 of the protected turtles were plucked from the wild and sent in multiple shipments overseas.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Burchell Outerbridge referred to the turtle smuggling operation as, “a huge case in terms of total volume.”
Court documents show the value of the stolen turtles to be between $250,000 and $550,000. The smugglers were busted after a package full of turtles was intercepted by federal wildlife agents at Miami International Airport – the package originated from a pet store outside of Orlando. The box contained Florida mud and box turtles; one variety is federally prohibited from being exported without a license and the other cannot be harvested under state law.
The discovery led agents to Michael Allen Pata, the pet store owner, who in turn led investigators to Hong Kong reptile reseller Vincent Cheung and Florida turtle poacher Michael Boesenberg. Cheung has been sentenced to six months in federal prison and Boesenberg faces up to five years in prison at his January 27 sentencing hearing.
Pata, the pet shop owner, received probation only after cooperating with the agents investigating the case.
Turtle experts worry that it will take years, possibly decades, for the turtle populations to recover from the poaching.
(Stock image of turtle via Pixabay)
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