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Chinese National Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Protected Sea Turtles

WASHINGTON—Wang Hong, a Chinese national, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado to a felony count of smuggling in connection with his sale and shipment of internationally protected sea turtle shell and sea turtle shell products from China to the United States, the Justice Department announced.

Wang, co-defendant Stephen Cheng of China, and nine others were indicted in Denver in August 2007 following a multi-year undercover investigation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Branch of Special Operations. Wang and seven other defendants were arrested on Sept. 6, 2007.

As set forth in today’s plea agreement, Wang admitted that he knowingly sent four shipments of Hawksbill sea turtle shell and violin bows decorated with Hawksbill sea turtle shell from China to undercover agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working in Colorado during 2006 and 2007. The products were valued at over $5,000. Based on the statutory and advisory sentencing guideline factors, the sentencing range is 6-12 months of imprisonment and a fine of $2,000-$20,000. Sentencing is set for Feb. 19, 2008.

“Today’s guilty plea is the result of years of hard work and dedication to enforcing laws that protect our wildlife,” said Assistant Attorney General Ronald J. Tenpas. “The Justice Department will continue to work with investigative agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service to prosecute the illegal smuggling of protected species such as sea turtles and to insure that those who engage in such activity cannot regard the United States as a safe market for their illegal products.”

“Trafficking in endangered species doesn’t pay,” said Troy Eid, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado.  “We will pursue these offenders across the globe to help save sea turtles for future generations.”

There are seven known species of sea turtles. Five of the seven species, including Hawksbill turtles, are listed as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Sea turtles are sometimes illegally killed for their meat, skins, eggs and shell, which have commercial value. International trade in all sea turtle parts for commercial purposes is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora, also known as the CITES treaty, a multilateral treaty to which the United States, China, and approximately 170 other countries are parties.

This prosecution is the result of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Branch of Special Operations, led by Special Agent George Morrison. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda McMahan of the District of Colorado, and Senior Trial Attorney Robert S. Anderson and Trial Attorney Colin L. Black of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section.