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Singapore Man Sentenced to Over 3 Years in Jail for Illegally Smuggling Wildlife


December 11, 2003

John Webb, U.S. Department of Justice: (202) 305-0227
Christine Eustis, USFWS: (404) 679-7287

Orlando, Florida - Today, U.S. District Judge John Antoon II, sentenced Lawrence Wee Soon Chye, age 38, to 37 months incarceration for his role in smuggling several hundred protected reptiles into and out of the United States in 2002 and 2003. In addition, he forfeited over $2,300 of U.S. currency, $9,000 of Thai currency, a camera and a computer to the Federal government. Chye, a resident of Singapore, was arrested on June 28, 2003 shortly after arriving in Orlando to meet with buyers of the smuggled animals. He pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy, smuggling and false-labeling charges in September 2003.

“The criminal activities of people like Mr. Chye have a severe impact on wild populations of rare species and make this sentence appropriate for the crime,” said Thomas M. Riley, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Chye admitted to conspiring with others in Florida and elsewhere to smuggle reptiles 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" by sending them in express mail packages mislabeled as magazines or books. Many of these packages were intercepted by U.S. Customs officials. The animals were worth between $200,000 and $400,000 and were bound for the lucrative American pet trade. Many died in transit. Some of the reptiles smuggled included highly protected Radiated Tortoises as well as monitor lizards and poisonous vipers. Many of the turtles and tortoises smuggled were under 4 inches long and posed significant risk of salmonella infection.

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 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Orange County Sheriff's Office in cooperation with Singapore authorities. The case was prosecuted by the Environment Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office in Orlando, Florida.

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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