Georgia man sentenced for smuggling protected turtles

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ATLANTA , GA – A federal judge sentenced Kuo Pin (“Kenny”) Cheng for illegally smuggling protected turtles from Asia, including at least two endangered species, in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Treaty (“CITES”), the Lacey Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

“Illegal trafficking in fish and wildlife is big business all over the globe,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak, “Laws protecting endangered species were enacted to preserve our treasures in the wild.  We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect endangered wildlife.”

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“This arrest and conviction show what collaboration can achieve to protect threatened and endangered species,” said Aurelia Skipwith, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I applaud Service Regional Director Leo Miranda and the office of law enforcement for their collaborative work in leading this effort in conservation of our precious species. We take the business of protecting turtles and other species seriously.”

According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: The United States and approximately 180 other countries are signatories to CITES, a multilateral treaty that provides a mechanism for regulating the international trade of wildlife and plants whose continued survival is considered threatened by trade. The United States has implemented CITES as part of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which makes it unlawful, among other things, for any person to import wildlife contrary to the provisions of CITES.

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Between October 2018 and January 2019, Cheng received at least 28 shipments from Hong Kong containing more than 150 live turtles. Among the turtles Cheng received were multiple CITES-protected species, as well as two species of turtles—the Asian Spotted Pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii) and Three-Keeled Asian (Melanochelys tricarinata)—that are classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Cheng attempted to avoid detection by having the shipments labeled as “toys” or “truck” and addressed to fake names. After receiving the turtles, Cheng sold them to other collectors in the United States that he met online. Cheng admitted to earning approximately $40,000 from the sales of the illegally imported turtles.

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Kuo Pin (“Kenny”) Cheng, 56, of Marietta, Georgia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, to one year of probation and ordered to forfeit $10,000. On August 21, 2019, Cheng pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully smuggling turtles in violation of federal law.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex R. Sistla prosecuted the case.