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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, November 7, 2019

Nevada Resident Pled Guilty and was Sentenced in Miami for Trafficking an Endangered Galapagos Tortoise

Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida,  Resident Agent in Charge David Pharo, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Major Alfredo Escanio, Southern Region B Commander, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, announced that defendant, Alan Francisco Wheelock, 33, of Las Vegas, Nevada, pled guilty today in Miami, Florida for conduct that involved the purchase and sale of a Galapagos tortoise (Chelonoidis niger), which was possessed, transported, and sold in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Title 16, United States Code, Section 1538(a)(1)(E) and (G), and the federal Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(1) and 3373(d)(1)(B).

Wheelock, after entering his guilty plea today before U.S. District Court Judge Ursula M. Ungaro, was immediately sentenced to a two-year term of probation, with a special condition that he serve 120 days of home confinement. In addition, the Court imposed a $7,000 criminal fine, to be directed to the Lacey Act Reward Account and ordered that Wheelock perform 100 hours of community service. The charges against co-defendant Maurico M. Perez, a resident of Miami, were dismissed due to his death after the return of the Indictment.

According to the charges, statements in Court, and a Joint Factual Statement executed by the parties, on August 27, 2018, an Investigator and a Canine Officer with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Law Enforcement were alerted by K-9 “Mag” to a suspicious parcel at a Miami-area FedEx store. Inspection of the package revealed an ESA-listed, juvenile Galapagos tortoise, being shipped to Wheelock in Las Vegas.

The investigation revealed that in August 2018, Wheelock visited a public internet site for reptile enthusiasts. Wheelock saw an advertisement on the site by a licensed breeder, offering “Galapagos Hatchlings” for sale. The site also stated that, “A CBW [Captive-Bred Wildlife Registration Permit] is required if you are outside Florida – Valid proof will be required . . . make sure your CBW is up to date – I will check with proper authorities . . . .” 

Wheelock contacted his cousin, co-defendant Perez, via a series of Facebook chat messages and requested that he contact the breeder, pose as an in-state buyer, and acquire a baby Galapagos tortoise to be shipped via FedEx to Wheelock in Las Vegas. Wheelock offered Perez $400 to drive to the breeder’s facility in central Florida. Wheelock, using banking information provided by Perez, wired $4,500 into Perez’s bank account.

On August 25, 2018, Perez travelled by car from Miami, and met with the breeder, withdrawing $4,300 from a branch of his bank on the way. While at the breeder’s facility, Perez posted video clips photos to his Facebook account, which included depictions of juvenile Galapagos tortoises. Perez paid the breeder $3,900, in exchange for one juvenile Galapagos tortoise, which he transported back to Miami. On August 27, 2018, Perez was captured on videotape presenting the box containing the Galapagos tortoise to the FedEx facility in Miami and paying to have the package sent to a FedEx Shipping Center in Las Vegas, addressed to Wheelock.

On August 28, 2018, Wheelock took delivery of the parcel containing the Galapagos tortoise at the FedEx Store in Las Vegas. The entire transaction involving the parcel was captured on videotape, as well as being physically surveilled by a Special Agent of the FWS.

The tortoise at issue, referred to as “Miami,” has been transferred to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and returned to Florida.

U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the Special Agents of the Fish & Wildlife Service in Florida and Nevada, and Investigators with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and Border Protection Officers, who investigated this matter.  She thanked the Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Forensic Laboratory for their technical support. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or at http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

 

Updated November 7, 2019