NANFA-L-- FW: turtle poachers arrested in Alabama

Bruce Stallsmith (
Wed, 27 Apr 2005 10:38:07 -0400

Score one for the good guys.

--Bruce Stallsmith
close to Guntersville on the Tennessee
Huntsville, AL, US of A

The Center for North American Herpetology
Lawrence, Kansas
27 April 2005

Huntsville (Alabama) Times (17 April 2005)


Operation Snapper Nets Seven Arrests

A Guntersville man is one of seven Alabama residents charged with multiple
violations of state laws involving the illegal possession and sale of
turtles to
breeders involved with an international poaching network.

The breeders, many of whom are based in Louisiana, considered a major hub of
the nation's illegal turtle trade, would raise the turtles and then sell
them or
their offspring to pet stores, collectors, meat distributors and overseas in
and Europe. The undercover investigation is ongoing, with indictments and
arrests expected in a nationwide sweep that could include as many as 50 more

Aarion Ray Tucker, 39, of Guntersville has been charged with five counts of
taking illegal species of turtles. Tucker also is licensed by the state as a
commercial angler to operate gill nets. He pleaded guilty in Morgan County
February for two commercial fishing violations in Wheeler National Wildlife
Refuge waters.

Operation Snapper involved enforcement officers with the Wildlife and
Freshwater Fisheries Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and
Natural Resources working with enforcement officials in four other
Southeastern states, undercover officers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
local agencies. Officials have been building the case for-in-least two
years, if
longer, in an attempt to infiltrate the widespread network.

The seven Alabama residents, who range in age from 25 to 80 years old, face
total of 65 counts. If convicted, they face fines up to $500 and six months
for each count. None of the seven are charged with violating the federal
Act, which involves interstate wildlife transportation and carries stiffer
penalties. However, officials are expected to soon indict or arrest about 50
other people across the country. Approximately 40 may face felony or
misdemeanor charges of the Federal Lacey Act, while about 10 others will
lesser state violations in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and

The seven Alabama people arrested caught more than 7,000 Sliders, River
Cooters, Mud, Musk, Painted and Box Turtles. An additional 30,000 pounds of
Common Snapping Turtles and 2,500 pounds of Softshells also were caught.
Conservation department officials said the "vast majority" of the turtles
legally caught and sold, but about 340 were illegally caught and sold in
of state or federal laws. The seven made more than $30,000 from sales of
and illegal turtles.

The suspects were arrested, without incident, based on warrants from the
investigation. The two oldest suspects, 67-year-old Robert Hall and
William Davis Lehr, both of Anniston, are considered by state officials to
major ringleaders. The turtles were caught on various state waterways,
Lake Guntersville, with wire traps or hoop nets in shallow waters baited
or chicken.

Once captured, state officials said, the turtles were sold to turtle farms
Lousiana, Arkansas and Florida. Farmers would keep breeding size turtles in
special ponds that prevented their escape, collect the eggs laid by females,
incubate them and then sell the hatchlings to buyers in Asia, Europe and
throughout the United States.

Turtle meat, prized by restaurants primarily for soups, is sold domestcally
overseas. Asian interests are among the main buyers of turtle meat, along
restaurants in the United States. Smaller turtles were sold to pet stores or
the Internet to collectors. Officials say pet stores are not being targeted
any involvement in the network.

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