A Pennsylvania man was sentenced this week to six months in prison — and he’ll have to shell out $250,000 — for illegally trafficking thousands of threatened diamondback terrapin turtles, prosecutors said.
David Sommers, 64, of Levittown, poached the protected turtles and their eggs from New Jersey marshes, sold them online and illegally shipped them over the course of nearly six years, from November 2011 until October 2017, the Justice Department said Thursday.
A grand jury indicted him on July 10, 2018. On Feb. 4 he pleaded guilty to falsely labeling packages containing the protected critters.
“The defendant had a simple business plan: Poach protected turtles and their eggs from their natural habitat, advertise them for sale online and then illegally ship them to customers by concealing the actual contents of the packages,” U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain said. “Sommers represented himself as a legitimate reptile breeder when he was, in fact, endangering the lives of these animals and breaking the law.”
Diamondback terrapin turtles are native to the eastern and western U.S. and are known for their diamond-shaped shell markings. While coveted, their population is shrinking, and New Jersey banned the collection, transportation and possession of diamondback terrapins in 2016.
The turtles are protected by New Jersey state law, as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which listed the species as threatened in 2013.
“Sommers used a sham business to shamelessly mask an illegal trade in threatened and protected species,” Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark said. “The Justice Department and our law enforcement partners will safeguard our nation’s natural resources and biodiversity and prosecute wildlife traffickers to the fullest extent of the law.”
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