Operation Central uncovered four sea turtle smuggling rings – two based in Mexico and two in China – engaged in illegal trafficking in endangered and threatened sea turtles and other protected species, and products made from their parts. Several of the sea turtle species illegally traded nest solely in Mexican waters, and this illegal trade had a significant impact on populations of these species. The market value of the wildlife parts and products at issue was estimated at well over one million dollars.
The complex multi-year investigation resulted in twelve individuals being charged with more than fifty counts of conspiracy, smuggling, and money-laundering. The investigation included innumerable hours coordinating and supervising both the collection and translation of tape-recorded and electronic evidence and the simultaneous take-down of the charged defendants in different jurisdictions, and the preparation and execution of eight search warrants in five different states, and the simultaneous arrest of eight of the charged individuals, six of whom were lured to the United States from Mexico and China. Through their diplomacy, the prosecution team also garnered the cooperation of the Mexican government in coordinating a simultaneous take-down in Mexico of other Mexican nationals suspected of engaging in similar conduct. All of the defendants lured to, or arrested in, the United States plead guilty and were sentenced.
This effort curtailed illegal trade in a significant population of endangered sea turtles and other wildlife, and forged a cooperative and successful relationship with Mexican law enforcement authorities engaged in wildlife protection. The case was handled jointly with the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Colorado.