Florida Man Sentenced for Distribution of Juvenile Turtles, Impersonation of Federal Agent
February 20, 2014
Contact Person: Nick Bianchi (843) 727-4381Charleston, South Carolina ----- United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that Steve Maleh, 42, of Plantation, Florida, was sentenced in federal court in Charleston, after earlier pleading guilty 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 sentenced Maleh to three years probation.
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. “FDA’s regulations help protect the public’s health and safety; in this case, children who play with the small turtles are at high risk for infections,” said David W. Bourne, Special Agent in Charge of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, Miami Field Office. “When commercial vendors violate the law and jeopardize the public health, we will take action to bring them to justice.”
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.
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.