Department of Justice Seal



APRIL 16, 1999

(202) 514-2007


TDD (202) 514-1888


Undercover Operation Aims To Shut Down Black Market

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In an ongoing crackdown on the trafficking of endangered species, Tommy Edward Crutchfield of Florida will serve 30 months in prison for his role in smuggling rare reptiles from Madagascar into the United States, the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida announced today.

Tommy Crutchfield was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Orlando. He pleaded guilty in January, 1999, to seven felony counts of conspiracy, smuggling and violating the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife statute. At the time of his plea, Crutchfield already was on supervised release and had served a prison sentence for smuggling endangered Fiji Island Iguanas into the United States in 1995. His illegal activity was uncovered by U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents as part of Operation Chameleon, a five-year effort to stop the smuggling of rare species into the United States in violation of federal law and international treaty.

"Trafficking in rare species threatens our environment," said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources. "Let the message be clear: We will take whatever steps are necessary here and abroad to stop the black market."

Crutchfield, the former owner of Tom Crutchfield's Reptile Enterprises in Lake Panasoffkee, FL, also was sentenced to three years of supervised release, during which time he is prohibited from engaging in the wildlife trade. Crutchfield admitted to smuggling more than 200 reptiles into the United States. The species included the Madagascar Tree Boa and the Madagascar Ground Boa, both of which are protected by the an international treaty known as CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Many of these animals were illegally brought into the United States as part of an ongoing conspiracy between Crutchfield and two German nationals, Wolfgang Kloe and Frank Lehmeyer, who smuggled the reptiles out of Madagascar.

In addition, Crutchfield admitted in January, 1999, that he had bought smuggle exotic turtles from a Japanese national, Kei Tomono, in 1996. Both Kloe and Tomono have been sentenced to prison terms for their roles in the smuggling conspiracy, while Lehmeyer remains at large. A reward may be available for information leading to Lehmeyer's arrest and conviction.

Crutchfield was considered one of the largest reptile importers in the United States before he fled to Belize in 1997, after the Justice Department notified him that he was under investigation. Last August, he was expelled from Belize and arrested by federal authorities in Miami as he returned to the United States.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service runs Operation Chameleon with cooperation from authorities in Florida, Virginia, Canada, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, Belize and Japan.