WILDLIFE SMUGGLER PLEADS GUILTY
Jeffrey H. Sloman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Eddie McKissick, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), announced that Kelvin Soto-Acevedo, 33, of Miami, pled guilty yesterday in federal District Court in Miami, in connection with the smuggling of fifty (50) Puerto Rican slider turtles and twenty-five (25) Puerto Rican brown tarantulas into South Florida from Puerto Rico, in violation of the federal Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. § 3372(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(B).
United States District Court Judge Joan A. Lenard, who accepted Soto-Acevedo’s guilty plea to the charge, set sentencing in the matter for July 19, 2010 at 4:00 p.m. Soto-Acevedo faces a possible term of imprisonment of up to five tears, a term of supervised release thereafter of up to three years, and a fine of up to $250,000.
According to the charge in the case, Court records, and statements at the plea hearing, in February 2009 Soto-Acevedo secured the restricted wildlife from Puerto Rico through two residents of the Commonwealth, who shipped him the wildlife in return for payment of approximately $275.00 and a variety of animals which were shipped to Puerto Rico by mail from Miami. The wildlife had a retail value of more than $8,000 on the mainland.
Thereafter, Soto-Acevedo marketed the restricted wildlife from his business, A Touch of Class Reptiles in Hialeah, Florida, through various internet sites specializing in reptiles. A sale to a customer in Nebraska, who subsequently attempted to re-sell the wildlife led to the detection of the illegal conduct.
The New Wildlife Law of Puerto Rico, Law 241 of August 15, 1999, prohibits the take, possession, transportation, and export of Puerto Rican slider turtles (Trachemys stejnegri) and Puerto Rican brown tarantulas (Cyrtopholis portoricae) for use in commercial activities unless a valid permit for such activities had been issued by the Departmento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA). The defendant, and his Puerto Rico based suppliers, never received or possessed a permit from DRNA to take, possess, or transport the slider turtles and brown tarantulas to Florida. Anyone who knowingly engages in conduct involving the sale or purchase of wildlife with a market value in excess of $350 in interstate commerce, knowing that the wildlife was taken, possessed, transported, and sold in violation of the laws or regulations of any “state,” a definition which legally includes the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, commits a federal crime.
Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of the Fish & Wildlife Service, which led to the conviction in this matter. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.