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Press Release

Jersey City, New Jersey, Man Admits Trafficking Threatened Turtles

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. – A Jersey City, New Jersey, man today admitted conspiring to traffic turtle species designated as threatened under New Jersey state law, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Patrick Elfers, 48, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler in Newark federal court to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits the interstate sale of wildlife with a market value of more $350 that has been taken or possessed in violation of any state law or regulation. He was released on $50,000 unsecured bond.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

New Jersey’s Endangered and Nongame Species Act prohibits the taking, possession, transportation, exportation or sale of spotted turtles, North American wood turtles and Eastern box turtles, among other species. New Jersey has designated the North American wood turtle as threatened because it is a vulnerable species that could become endangered. The spotted turtle and Eastern box turtle are listed as species of special concern.

Elfers admitted that, from December 2011 through March 2014, he possessed various turtle species, including spotted turtles, North American wood turtles, and Eastern box turtles, at his home in Jersey City without the required permits under New Jersey State law. He advertised the turtles on wildlife trade websites to prospective purchasers in New Jersey and elsewhere. Elfers also shipped turtles to purchasers in New York State by tying them in tube socks to restrict their movement and packing them in boxes that were neither designed nor appropriate for the shipment of live animals.

The charge to which Elfers pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 29, 2015.

As part of his plea agreement, Elfers must forfeit more than 40 turtles and pay a fine of $30,450 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lacey Act Reward Fund. He must also relinquish 10 Eastern box turtles and any additional turtles or tortoises in his possession, including three Gulf Coast box turtles, one African spur thigh tortoise, and one elongated tortoise.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, under the direction Resident Special Agent in Charge Preston Fant, with the investigation leading to today’s plea.

The Government is represented by Assistant United States Attorney Kathleen P. O'Leary of the U.S. Attorney's Office Health Care and Government Fraud Unit in Newark.

Defense counsel:  James R. Lisa Esq., Newark

Updated June 30, 2015

Press Release Number: 15-248