Man Pleads Guilty In Juno Beach Endangered Sea Turtle Egg Taking Case
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and William H. Calvert, Supervisory Law Enforcement Officer, United States Fish & Wildlife Service, West Palm Beach, announce that Kenneth Cornelius Coleman, 52, of Riviera Beach, entered a guilty plea today before U.S. District Judge William Zloch to one count of unlawfully transporting endangered sea turtle eggs in violation of the Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. §3372. Sea turtle eggs are protected under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §1538. At sentencing, Coleman faces up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and up to three years of supervised release.
According to the Information and other court documents, on July 3, 2013, Loggerhead Marine Life Center beach/sea turtle surveyors discovered disturbed sea turtle nests in the area of the beach crossover at 840 Ocean Drive in Juno Beach. Nearby, a trail of six sea turtle eggs were found in the sand. Probing marks were visible in the disturbed nests.
Juno Beach Police officers responded. At the beach crossover near 840 Ocean Drive, officers found a wooden stick that appeared to have been used to probe the turtle nests, as well as three canvas bags. A blue bag with the name Celtic Tours was discovered and found to contain 213 sea turtle eggs. DNA analysis of this bag concluded that the DNA profile previously obtained from Kenneth C. Coleman matched the DNA on the bag.
Experts at the Loggerhead Marine Life Center, including biologist and sea turtle expert Kelly Martin, found that one of the nests disturbed on July 3, 2013 was a Green Sea Turtle nest (endangered species), and the other three were Loggerhead Sea Turtle nests (threatened species), both species are protected under Federal Law. The total of 219 sea turtle eggs were reburied in an attempt to allow them to continue to mature and to hatch.
On July 4, 2013, four more sea turtle nests were found to have been disturbed and to be missing turtle eggs: three Loggerhead Sea Turtle nests and one Green Sea Turtle nest. These were in the area of the beach crossover near 70 Celestial Way in Juno Beach, not far from the disturbed nests from the day before. Also near that location, Juno Beach police officers discovered a backpack which contained 97 sea turtle eggs. These eggs were reburied as well. Coleman was later contacted on the beach near where these nests were disturbed. Officers detained him on suspicion of sea turtle egg poaching at which point Coleman spontaneously stated, “I don’t know nothing about no turtle eggs.”
Biologist Kelly Martin examined the eggs and confirmed that the 219 eggs found on July 13, 2013 and the 97 eggs found on July 4, 2013 were in fact sea turtle eggs. Because sea turtle eggs are illegal contraband, it is very difficult to establish a precise market value for the eggs. However, based upon research done by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the retail black market value of the sea turtle eggs in this area is estimated to be approximately $3.00 per egg, and in some cases as much as $5.00 per egg. For the 316 sea turtle eggs found in this case, the total value is estimated to be between $948 and $1,580. This value is therefore more than $350.00.
Coleman was previously charged and pled guilty to violating the Lacey Act by transporting endangered sea turtle eggs in 2010 in Case No. 10-80124-CR-Ryskamp. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison in that case.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Juno Beach Police Department and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for their work in the case. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Jorgensen.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.