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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, October 30, 2017

Chinese Man Sentenced For Illegally Shipping Snakes

CONTACT:      Barbara Burns
PHONE:         (716) 843-5817
FAX:            (716) 551-3051

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that Chaoyi Le, 28, of Shanghai, China, who was convicted of Lacey Act False Labeling, was sentenced to time served and fined $5,000 by Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci, Jr. The defendant was also ordered to pay restitution totaling $3,518.75 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aaron J. Mango, Craig R. Gestring, and Melissa M. Marangola, who handled the case, stated that on April 22, 2014, the defendant sent seven ball pythons from Amherst, NY, to Shanghai, China through the U.S. Mail using the fictitious name “Ben Fan.” Le submitted a form falsely declaring that the package contained “Belts, Candy and Chocolate” with a value of $80. At the time the package was shipped, the ball pythons had an approximate value of $3,300. 

The package was recovered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and inspected on May 3, 2014. In addition to the seven live ball pythons, the package also contained cloth bags typically used to hold snakes, hand warmers which are typically used in shipping reptiles, and insulation material. Written on one of the cloth bags were trade names for ball pythons: “Enchi Ghost,” “Pastel Enchi Ghost,” and “Butter Enchi,” all common trade names for ball pythons color morphs. After discovering the pythons, the USFWS contracted with a wildlife expert to care temporarily for the pythons.

Le was stopped by Canadian border officials attempting to enter Canada on April 22, 2014, at which time three live albino western hog-nosed snakes were found hidden in his socks. The total value of the hog-nosed snakes was approximately $500. 

“As a result of this prosecution, those who engage in the black market trafficking of wildlife and exotic animals should consider themselves warned that they will not be permitted to slither out of responsibility for their wrongdoing,” said Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. “Working with our law enforcement partners both at home and abroad, we will vigorously enforce those laws which seek to protect all forms of wildlife from those who threaten them through their illicit trafficking activities." 

“As this investigation shows, wildlife trafficking has no boundaries,” said Ed Grace, Acting Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “International wildlife trafficking requires law enforcement across the globe to work together to catch and prosecute those who profit at the expense of imperiled wildlife. I would like to congratulate our special agents, and Canadian counterparts, who exposed a complicated transnational reptile smuggling scheme and brought this man to justice.”

The sentencing is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the direction of Honora Gordon, Special Agent-in-Charge, Northeast Region; the United States Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector-in-Charge Shelly Binkowski of the Boston Division; and Investigators with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Wildlife Enforcement Division.

Updated October 31, 2017