Miami, Florida – South Florida federal prosecutors have charged a Davie, Florida company specializing in wholesale reptile sales and its owner for their roles in a scheme to unlawfully enrich themselves and others by smuggling illegally-harvested Florida turtles out of the United States and into China, Japan, and other places.
According to the information filed in Miami federal district court, from approximately April 2017 through April 2019, 54-year-old Davie resident Michael Van Nostrand, his company, Strictly Reptiles, Inc., and others established a network of “collectors” who searched in the Florida wilds for certain fresh-water turtle specimens. Contrary to federal law, the collectors captured the protected turtles and turned them over to Van Nostrand, says the information. Then, to make it appear to customers that he and his company had legitimately obtained the turtles, it is alleged that Van Nostrand falsely labeled the turtles as having been bred in captivity. It is also alleged that Van Nostrand’s co-conspirators – the “collectors” -- represented in federal export disclosure documents that the turtles were captive- bred, rather than wild-caught, which was a lie. According to the information, Van Nostrand, Strictly Reptiles, and their co-conspirators trafficked hundreds of illegally-harvested Florida turtles for profit, including the principal species – Florida three-stripe mud turtles (Kinsperson baurii), pictured above.
Harvesting and selling wild-caught Florida fresh-water turtles is illegal. The information charges Van Nostrand and Strictly Reptiles of conspiring with others to illegally traffic wildlife. Van Nostrand made his first court appearance in this case today, in federal magistrate court in Miami. If convicted, Van Nostrand faces up to five years in prison, plus supervised release and a fine of at least $250,000. V Strictly Reptiles, if convicted, faces a criminal fine of at least $500,000.
Juan Antonio Gonzalez, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Stephen Clark, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Region IV, Office of Law Enforcement, Atlanta; and Colonel Roger Young, Director, Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, Law Enforcement Division made the announcement.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission jointly investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Watts-FitzGerald is prosecuting it.
Criminal complaints, informations and indictments contain mere allegations and defendants are innocent unless and until found guilty in a court of law.
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, under case number 21-cr-20495-Williams.
Note: Photograph courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.