Florida Man Pleads Guilty to Distribution of Juvenile Turtles, Impersonation of Federal Agent
Contact Person: Nick Bianchi (843) 727-4381
Charleston, South Carolina ---- United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that Steve Maleh, 42, of Plantation, Florida, has entered a guilty plea in federal court in Charleston, to multiple counts of illegal distribution of juvenile turtles, as well as one count of impersonation of a federal agent. United States District Judge Sol Blatt, Jr. of Charleston accepted the guilty plea and will impose sentence after he has reviewed the presentence report which will be prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.
Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that Maleh owned and operated the Island Breeze store on Hilton Head Island, SC. After receiving complaints that the store was distributing baby turtles to customers, Hilton Head Code Enforcement officers and FDA agents made multiple visits to the store over a number of years, informing Maleh and his staff that distributing juvenile turtles was illegal. During these visits, officers repeatedly observed juvenile turtles in the store. Despite numerous warnings, Maleh continued to distribute juvenile turtles to customers. The sale of turtles with a carapace length of less than 4 inches has been banned by the federal government since 1975. The purpose for the ban is to avoid exposure of individuals, primarily children, to salmonella, which can be regularly found on turtles.
Additionally, in April 2011, the owner of a competing business on Hilton Head Island received a letter purportedly from the F.D.A. stating that he must stop selling juvenile turtles or face fines and/or prosecution. Further investigation revealed that it was in fact Maleh who sent the letter. The investigation showed that Maleh mailed the letter and included a phone number registered to him as a contact number.
Mr. Nettles stated the maximum penalty for illegal distribution of juvenile turtles is imprisonment for one year and/or a fine of $1,000, while Maleh’s conviction for impersonating a federal agent carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and/or a fine of $250,000.
The case was investigated by agents of the United States Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations and the Hilton Head Code Enforcement Office. Assistant United States Attorney Nick Bianchi of the Charleston office is prosecuting the case.