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Guilty plea in APEC tortoise theft : DA

Guilty plea in APEC tortoise theft : DA

East Elmhurst man facing 6 months for taking 95-pound reptile in July

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2017 10:30 am

The tale of the tortoise and the harebrained scheme is nearing an end, as a Queens man has pleaded guilty in the July turtle-napping from the Alley Pond Environmental Center.

Shawn Waters, 37, of East Elmhurst pleaded guilty on Thursday to a single count of fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property for having taken Millenium, a 17-year-old African spurred tortoise, from his enclosure on the night of July 16-17.

The reptile was recovered in Connecticut one week later when a man who purchased him learned that Millenium had been stolen.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, in a statement issued by his office Thursday afternoon, said Waters is expected to receive six months in jail when he is sentenced by Queens Court Criminal Judge Gia Morris on Jan. 18.

“Millenium the tortoise is safely back within the confines of his habitat at APEC and the person responsible for the illegal summer-time travel across state lines will also be confined — to Rikers Island,” Brown said.

“The defendant has now admitted his guilt and will go to jail as punishment for possessing the stolen reptile,” Brown added. “Let this be a warning, that my office will pursue justice for all those in Queens County -— including rare tortoises.”

Millenium is one of the star attractions at APEC, a genial host for all visitors who is particularly popular with classes of young school children.

The 95-pound beast has been a denizen of the center for more than a decade.

Brown said Millenium’s market value is about $2,500. But he is considered priceless at APEC.

Older guests who showed up at the center not knowing Millenium had been taken were disappointed; small children looking forward to seeing him cried.

APEC officials said at the time that the breed is neither rare nor endangered — they can be purchased in pet stores — but they still feared that he might be harmed, even unintentionally.

They also said someone not familiar with a spurred tortoise of that size might not be prepared for his unexpected strength — a spokeswoman for APEC at the time said he could easily overturn any piece of furniture that he managed to ensconce himself beneath.

The break in the case came after a Connecticut man advertised on line that he was selling a musk turtle. A caller offered an African spurred tortoise in a trade.

The two subsequently met at a Metro North station in Fairfield, Conn., at which time Millenium was exchanged for the turtle and $300.

The next day, after seeing news reports on Millenium’s theft, the Connecticut man contacted detectives from the NYPD’s 111th precinct. APEC personnel were able to confirm Millenium’s identity and returned him to Queens. Following a medical checkup and a few days to relax and get his bearings back, he was back greeting his public.

Peter C. Mastrosimone contributed to this story.