Three Turtle Farmers Charged and Two Arrested For Illegal Turtle Trafficking
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Jason Riley, Deputy Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Major Jeff Hubert, Regional Commander, South A Region, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), announced the arrest of defendants James Cheung, 57, of Moore Haven, Florida, and Chris Craig, 36, of Okeechobee, Florida, on two criminal complaints charging them with knowingly making illegal sales of freshwater turtles in interstate and foreign commerce, in violation of the Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(2) and 3373(d)(1). A third arrest warrant was issued for David Feltenberger, 52, of Okeechobee, Florida, for related crimes. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. Craig is scheduled to make his initial appearances in federal court on Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann E. Vitunac in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Cheung is scheduled to make an initial appearance on Friday in Ft. Myers, Florida, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas N. Frazier.
Approximately two years ago, FWCC instituted an aquaculture permitting system in response to a declining wild freshwater turtle population in Florida. The purpose of the system was to foster the development of turtle aquaculture facilities, or “turtle farms,” capable of breeding turtle populations for commercial sale as a way to prevent continued overharvesting of the state’s wild turtle populations. The permit system allowed an aquaculture facility owner to harvest a set number of turtles from the wild for the purpose of developing a successful brood stock. In return, the owners of aquaculture facilities were required to follow their permit conditions. One of the required conditions was to maintain any wild-caught turtles on their turtle farms for use as brood stock until the permit’s expiration date.
According to the allegations in the complaints, Feltenberger owned a turtle aquaculture facility known as the Big Lake Fish Farm II and possessed an FWCC Turtle Aquaculture Brood Stock Collection Permit. Feltenberger’s permit allowed him to collect over 15,000 turtles of various species from the wild for use as brood stock from May 1, 2011 until April 30, 2012. Craig was an employee on Feltenberger’s turtle farm. In the fall of 2011, Feltenberger purchased wild-caught turtles. Instead of holding them on his aquaculture facility to use as brood stock, he and Craig repeatedly shipped them to China in shipments of live turtles.
Also according to the allegations in the complaints, Cheung owned a turtle aquaculture facility known as I & C Fish Ranch and possessed an FWCC Turtle Aquaculture Brood Stock Collection Permit. Cheung’s permit allowed him to collect over 500 turtles of various species from the wild for use a brood stock from March 21, 2011 until April 30, 2012. Instead of holding them on his aquaculture facility, Cheung repeatedly sold the turtles to buyers in California.
Mr. Ferrer commended investigative efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich.
A complaint is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
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.