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Singapore Man Indicted for Illegally Smuggling Hundreds of Protected Reptiles


August 5, 2003

Steve Cole, AUSA's office: (813) 274-6136
Tom MacKenzie, USFWS: (404) 679-7291

Orlando, Florida - On July 30, 2003, a federal grand jury in Orlando, Florida, indicted Lawrence Wee Soon Chye, age 38, for conspiracy, illegal smuggling of protected reptiles into the United States, and false labeling of imported animals. Chye was arrested on June 28, 2003, in Orlando, shortly after his arrival from Singapore. The maximum penalty for each count of the three count indictment is five years imprisonment, $250,000 fine, three years supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.

The indictment alleges that Chye conspired with others to smuggle a variety of animals that are protected under the Endangered Species Act and an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or "CITES". Animals in the shipment included Indian star tortoises, Fly River turtles, and Monitor lizards. The government alleges that in January 2003, Chye shipped a package from Singapore containing 198 Fly River turtles, 25 Indian star tortoises, and three Monitor lizards, to a co-conspirator in Orlando, Florida. The package was labeled as containing magazines and book samples. The package was intercepted by U.S. Customs Inspectors in Memphis, Tennessee who then contacted Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and sent it for delivery in Orlando, Florida.

The United States and Singapore are two of the 163 nations currently party to the CITES treaty and as such protect wildlife and plant species on a global scale from over-exploitation through international trade. Federal regulations adopted pursuant to the CITES treaty require that protected animals be legally imported only after certain permits are obtained and the importation into the U.S. occurs at designated ports of entry. Additionally, in order to help protect the public and the environment from the introduction of potential diseases and injurious animal and plant species, federal law requires that packages containing animals be properly labeled and declared for inspection by U.S. Customs or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors upon their import.

The case was investigated by agents from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Customs Enforcement, and the Orange County Sheriff's Office in cooperation with Singapore authorities. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Bruce S. Ambrose in the Orlando Division.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


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