Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Three men sentenced for multiple Lacey Act violations for illegally collecting, trading Oregon snakes

January 31, 2017

Contact(s):

Brent Lawrence (503) 231-6211 or Brent_Lawrence@fws.gov


California mountain kingsnake Credit: USFWS

Three men have been sentenced as a part of Operation Kingsnake, a three-year investigation that uncovered the illegal trafficking and collecting of hundreds of wild snakes in Oregon, 11 other states, and Canada.

Michael Collalto, of Rochester, New York, pleaded guilty Jan. 30, 2017, in federal court in Rochester, New York, to four Lacey Act violations for his role in the trade of illegally caught snakes.  From 2008 through 2012, Collalto was part of a group of individuals that trafficked hundreds of illegally collected snakes to or from Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Canada.

“We commend the Department of Justice and all other agencies that played a role in aiding this joint investigation and prosecution,” said Gary Young, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Special Agent in Charge for the Pacific Region. “Our agents will continue to work with our partners to fully investigate and bring to justice individuals who choose to commercialize and profit from protected wildlife species.”

Collalto, a breeder and collector of reptiles, pleaded guilty to three counts of illegal transport of wildlife and one count of illegal receipt of wildlife, which are misdemeanors under the Lacey Act. In court documents, Collalto admitted that between 2011 and 2012, he knowingly participated in violations, which involved the illegal collection, transport, and receipt of snakes that were collected from and protected by New Jersey and Oregon.

Under the Lacey Act, it is illegal to knowingly ship or receive snakes in interstate commerce that were taken in violation of state law. Collalto collected protected corn snakes and coastal plains milk snakes from the wild in New Jersey, and transported them to his residence in New York. Collalto sold and exchanged the illegally obtained snakes with Gerard Kruse in Douglaston, New York. Kruse personally collected protected northern pine snakes from the wild in New Jersey and traded one to Collalto in Pennsylvania.  Kruse also sent Collalto three California mountain kingsnakes that had been illegally collected in Oregon.

U.S. District Judge Charles J. Siragusa placed Collalto on probation for four years with special conditions, including forfeiture of his snakes and being banned from the collection, sale, and trade of reptiles and amphibians.  Collalto was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Account and complete 300 hours of community service. The Lacey Act Reward Account is used to pay for rewards for information on wildlife crimes and care for live wildlife seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2016, two other people were sentenced in connection to Operation Kingsnake:

  • Gerard Kruse, of Douglaston, New York, was sentenced to probation for three years with special conditions, including forfeiture of his snakes and being banned from the collection, sale, and trade of reptiles and amphibians.  Kruse was also ordered to pay a $4,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Account and a $1,000 community service payment to the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust, and complete 400 hours of community service. Kruse pleaded guilty to 13 Lacey Act violations for his role in the trade of illegally caught snakes and admitted that between 2008 and 2012, he knowingly participated in violations, which involved the illegal collection, transport and receipt of 59 snakes that were collected from and protected by various states, including Oregon.
  • Shannon Brown, of Bishop, Calif., received four years of probation with special conditions, including forfeiture of his snakes and being banned from the collection, sale, and trade of reptiles and amphibians. Brown was also ordered to pay a $6,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Account and complete 100 hours of community service. Brown sold, bought and traded illegally obtained snakes with Kruse.

The case was investigated by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The case was prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Rochester, New York. 


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

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