Chief Engineer Sentenced to More Than a Year in Prison for Obstruction of Justice and Oil Dumping Offenses
A federal judge in Valdosta, Georgia, yesterday sentenced Ashtyn Michael Rance, 35, to 33 months in prison on each count to run concurrently, a $4,300 fine and three years of post-release supervision. The judge also prohibited Rance from possessing or selling wildlife during the supervisory period. Rance pleaded guilty on Nov. 18, 2021, to violating the Lacey Act and unlawfully possessing firearms.
In pleading guilty, Rance admitted that on Feb. 22, 2018, he shipped three eastern box turtles and 16 spotted turtles from Valdosta to a customer in Florida, in a package falsely labeled as containing tropical fish and common lizards. He was paid $3,300 for the turtles and knew they were being subsequently trafficked to China.
Rance further admitted that on May 10, 2018, he shipped 15 Gaboon vipers from Valdosta to Florida. The snakes were worth approximately $900 and also headed to a buyer in China. He falsely labeled the package as containing harmless reptiles and ball pythons. Rance had legally imported 100 Gaboon vipers and other venomous snakes from Africa to Atlanta. He received a special permit to transport the snakes out of Georgia, but he later returned to Valdosta with 16 vipers.
Rance possessed and sold the reptiles in violation of Georgia laws. The federal Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest wildlife trafficking statute and prohibits, among other things, transporting wildlife in interstate commerce if the wildlife is illegal under state laws. It is also a Lacey Act violation to falsely label a package containing wildlife.
The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a semi-aquatic turtle native to the eastern United States and Great Lakes region. The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is endemic to forested regions of the East Coast and Midwest. Collectors prize both species in the domestic and foreign pet trade market, where they are resold for thousands of dollars. The Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica) is native to central Sub-Saharan Africa. Its venom can cause shock, loss of consciousness or death in humans. Authorities intercepted the package containing the vipers to minimize the risk of a bite or escape.
Additionally, Rance acknowledged that he possessed a Bushmaster Carbine .223 caliber rifle and Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun in his Valdosta residence that he was prohibited from owning as a convicted felon.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement in Vero Beach, Florida, ATF and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducted the investigation as part of Southern Surge Task Force’s Operation Middleman. The operation focused on the trafficking of reptiles from the United States to China. The government is represented by Trial Attorney Ryan Connors of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonja Profit for the Middle District of Georgia.