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U.S. Judge Sentences Tortoise Trafficker to Prison

U.S. Judge Sentences Tortoise Trafficker to Prison

A tortoise trafficker identified as Kwong Wa Cheung was sentenced to two months in federal prison and fined $12,000 for attempting to smuggle 46 tortoises from California to Hong Kong. Photo by Derrick Coetzee via Wikimedia Commons.

A U.S. District Court judge has sentenced Kwong Wa Cheung to two months in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release, for attempting to smuggle 26 Eastern Box Turtles and 20 African Spurred Tortoises to Hong Kong.

In addition to jail time, Cheung was ordered to pay a $12,000 fine and perform 500 hours of community service at an animal shelter. He will also serve two months in a residential re-entry center (a “halfway house”) during the supervised release.

Cheung brought three boxes labeled as toys — which actually contained the tortoises — to a United States Postal Service facility in San Gabriel, California, for shipment to Hong Kong. The Postal Service refused to ship the boxes because the fake name and address used by Cheung was suspicious. When Cheung could not be located, the undelivered packages were processed for shipment to a “dead mail” facility in Georgia. Sadly, not all of the tortoises survived the horrific ordeal.

“After several days, at least one of the packages began to emit a strong odor because one of the now-dead turtles was already decomposing. When a Postal Inspector opened one of the packages, he found the reptiles packaged in athletic socks.”

Subsequent investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Postal Inspection Service linked the fake name to Cheung. He pleaded guilty to one count of mislabeling wildlife intended for foreign commerce and was ordered to begin serving his sentence in February 2015.

Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) and African spurred tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) are both listed under CITES Appendix II, which allows for limited and controlled trade. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ classifies both species as Vulnerable .