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Press Release

San Gabriel Man Sentenced To Federal Prison In Scheme In Smuggling Protected Turtles From U.S. To Hong Kong

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

LOS ANGELES – A San Gabriel man who attempted to smuggle nearly four dozen turtles from Southern California to Hong Kong has been sentenced to federal prison.

Kwong Wa Cheung, 36, was sentenced Tuesday to two months in federal prison. Following the completion of the prison term, Cheung will be on supervised release for two years, during which time he will serve two months in a residential re-entry center (a “halfway house”) and perform 500 hours of community service at an animal shelter.

Cheung was sentenced by United States District Judge John F. Walter, who also ordered the defendant to pay a $12,000 fine.

When Cheung attempted to smuggle the 46 turtles and tortoises to Hong Kong, he brought three boxes containing the animals to a United States Postal Service facility in San Gabriel. Cheung used a fake name and address on the packages, and declared that the content of the packages were “Toys (Acces Model).” The fake name that Cheung used aroused suspicion, and the Postal Service refused to ship the packages.

Because he used a fake name, the Postal Service could not locate Cheung and it began processing the undelivered packages for shipment to a “dead mail” facility in Georgia. But, after several days, at least one of the packages began to emit a strong odor because one of the now-dead turtles was already decomposing. When a Postal Inspector opened one of the packages, he found the reptiles packaged in athletic socks. Subsequent investigation allowed authorities to link Cheung to the mislabeled packages.

The turtles being smuggled were 26 Eastern Box turtles and 20 African Spurred tortoises. Both species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Cheung pleaded guilty in August to one count one of mislabeling wildlife intended for foreign commerce.

Judge Walter ordered Cheung to begin serving his sentence on or before February 15, 2015.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Postal Inspection Service. The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens provided assistance in identifying the species.

Release No. 14-156

Updated June 22, 2015