Man Receives 18-Month Sentence for Massive Turtle Trafficking Operation

Man Receives 18-Month Sentence for Massive Turtle Trafficking Operation

Mass Trafficking Operation Busted

( – When most Americans think of trafficking, drugs or humans typically come to mind. Many don’t realize that turtle trafficking is a real problem, and it could be consequential to the environment. In recent years, US law enforcement has been investigating a significant increase in the illegal turtle trade. Turtle poachers and sellers transfer a large number of the animals across state lines; many eventually end up in China, where the demand for reptiles has skyrocketed. In a recent case, federal officials caught 48-year-old Jesse James Freeman trapping and selling turtles illegally, resulting in an 18-month prison sentence and a significant fine for his crimes.

North Carolina Turtle Supplier Arrested and Convicted

The US Department of Justice said Freeman pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act in September 2020. The Lacey Act gives amphibians, reptiles, and certain fish federal protections. The law makes it illegal to catch, possess, transport, or sell wildlife. The legislation was initially signed into law by President William McKinley in 1900, and Congress has updated the law several times since then.

The DOJ said between January 2017 and September 2018, Freeman illegally captured and supplied turtles to smugglers, who would send the wild turtles to Asia. The poacher caught at least 122 spotted turtles, 3 wood turtles, and 722 eastern box turtles. The Lacey Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) protect all three species of native US turtles. The United States is one of 183 countries that have signed the CITES treaty.

Poaching Turtles Could Harm Ecosystems

Poachers and traffickers catch untold tens of thousands or more turtles and ship them illegally to China every year for millions in profits. The government estimated the value of Freeman’s catch at $1.5 million in Asia, and the poacher collected around $121,000 for his efforts. The three wood turtles are extremely valuable in the domestic and foreign pet trade.

Regardless, the DOJ said poaching turtles could cause a devastating impact on the ecosystem and the species of turtles. Officials noted the turtles’ hatchlings have low survival rates, and it takes years for them to reach sexual maturity for breeding. The Justice Department added it’s dedicated to protecting native species from international trafficking, and if law enforcement officials catch anyone breaking the law, they will impose severe consequences.

In addition to Freeman’s 18-month jail sentence, he’ll have to pay a $25,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Fund.

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