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Press Release

Former Border Patrol Agent Sentenced for Attempting
to Receive Protected Leopard Tortoises

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON—Rene Soliz of Alice, Texas, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, Texas, to serve three years of supervised probation, 250 hours of community service and pay a $1,500 fine for violating the Lacey Act by attempting to receive 15 Tanzanian leopard tortoises that were transported into the United States, the Justice Department announced.

Prior to his sentencing and as part of a plea agreement with the government, Soliz resigned his position as a Border Patrol agent.

Soliz pleaded guilty to the Lacey Act violation on April 14, 2009. The Lacey Act prohibits the knowing attempt to receive or acquire wildlife that was transported in violation of a law or treaty of the United States.

"Today’s sentence and Mr. Soliz’s resignation as a Border Patrol agent underscore the consequences of violating federal wildlife laws," said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, "Soliz attempted to trade in a threatened tortoise species in violation of laws designed to protect wildlife from extinction. The Justice Department responds aggressively to those who choose to undermine federal wildlife laws and contribute to the endangerment of protected species."

According to statements made court, in March 2006, Soliz, then while employed as a U.S. Border Patrol agent, contacted an individual in Dar-Es Salaam, Tanzania, who was selling leopard tortoises. Soliz asked to buy eight of the tortoises and indicated an interest in buying more at a later date as part of a long-term business relationship. On April 7, 2006, a U.S. Customs inspector at John F. Kennedy International Airport intercepted a package containing the tortoises being sent to Soliz. The package was labeled as containing 50 live scorpions. When a U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspector opened the package, he found 14 live leopard tortoises and one dead tortoise.

Leopard tortoises are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The CITES Appendices list species afforded different levels or types of protection from over-exploitation. Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is closely controlled. International trade in specimens of Appendix II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit from the exporting country. No export permit accompanied the tortoises bought by Soliz.

The case was prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Claire Whitney of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section. The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.

Updated September 15, 2014

Press Release Number: 09-769