FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 1, 2009
USFWS Tim Santel, (217) 793-9554
Missouri Reptile Dealer Sentenced for Making False Statements to Federal Agents
A Missouri reptile dealer was sentenced on Nov. 30, 2009, in U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri, Springfield, Mo., for making false statements to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents relating to the unlawful exportation of protected turtles. John F. Richards, 51, of Strafford, Mo., owner of Loggerhead Acres Turtle Farm, was investigated by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Missouri Department of Conservation for activities that involved the commercialization of Missouri native reptile species, including state-endangered Blanding’s turtles and Western chicken turtles. The investigation revealed that Richards unlawfully shipped state endangered and native species of turtles from the United States to Japan. In 2004, search warrants were executed by agents on the Loggerhead Acres Turtle Farm and evidence showed the commercialization of Missouri native species such as Mississippi map turtles, Ouachita map turtles, river cooters, alligator snapping turtles and others.
On Sept. 16, 2008, Richards was indicted by a federal grand jury on four counts of violating the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection law that carries a possible maximum fine of $100,000 and/or one year in prison per count. The unlawful sale and transport of wildlife in interstate and foreign commerce is a violation of the Lacey Act.
By pleading guilty on May 28, 2009, Richards waived his right to indictment and trial and was placed on five years supervised probation by U.S. District Court Judge Richard E. Dorr. Richards was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Account in addition to $200 in court costs. During the term of probation, Richards must abide by the standard conditions of probation to include submitting to drug testing and allowing inspection of his facility.
Reptiles account for a significant portion of the live wildlife trade in the United States, and this country is one of the world's largest markets for these animals. Over the years, reptiles have become increasingly popular as pets and as high-priced live "collectibles." Rare species are particularly profitable in the black market. Agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service routinely uncover widespread illegal trafficking of some of the world's most imperiled reptiles. Assistance from the U.S. Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri, the Green County Sheriff’s Department Drug Enforcement Unit and the Missouri Department of Conservation was instrumental in prosecuting this case.
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