Broward Wildlife Dealer and Company Sentenced in Scheme to Harvest and Sell Florida Turtles

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Miami, Florida – A federal district judge in Miami has sentenced Michael Van Nostrand, 55, of Davie, Florida and Strictly Reptiles, Inc., a company also located in Davie, for their roles in a scheme to unlawfully enrich themselves and others by smuggling illegally-harvested Florida turtles out of the United States and into China, Japan, and other places.    

According to court records, from approximately April 2017 through April 2019 the defendants and their co-conspirators established a network of “collectors” to capture specimens of various wild fresh-water turtles within the State of Florida.  They then marketed and sold the turtles as “captive bred” to both domestic and international customers to provide the appearance the turtles were legally obtained.  In text messages, Van Nostrand repeatedly exhorted his suppliers to acquire more of the principal species: Florida three-stripe mud turtles (Kinosternon baurii) for his company.  To complete the scheme and evade detection, the coconspirators would falsely mark required federal export declarations with a code denoting the turtles were captive bred, rather than wild caught.

An investigation conducted by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service documented the illegal acquisition and sale of approximately 3,500 of Florida fresh-water turtles.  

Michael Van Nostrand was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of seven months, followed by a term of supervised release of three years, the first year of which will be served in home confinement.  In addition, the Court ordered Van Nostrand to immediately pay a $100,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Fund and restricted Van Nostrand’s freedom to engage in the wildlife trade during the period of supervised release.  During the sentencing hearing, the Court cited Van Nostrand’s compromised health (which was the subject of several filings and courtroom arguments) as the sole reason for not imposing a higher sentence. Strictly Reptiles, Inc. was sentenced to a term of five years’ probation, a fine of $150,000 also payable immediately to the Lacey Act Reward Fund, and oversight by an independent monitor/auditor, to be selected and appointed with the court’s approval.

The Lacey Act Reward Fund is a Congressionally authorized fund available to pay for the care, treatment, and rehabilitation of wildlife pending their disposition at the conclusion of civil and criminal matters and to compensate witnesses and cooperators in criminal investigations.   

In pleadings and courtroom statements, the government noted that significant pressure is being placed on native species – especially turtles and tortoises – throughout the United States to satisfy the black-market pet trade, and that the United States is facing the specter of some species becoming extinct in the wild because of illegal poaching activities.  The State of Florida has restricted the commercialization of wild-caught turtles since 2009 as part of its conservation effort.

Juan Antonio Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and David Pharo, Acting Special Agent, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, SAC Office Atlanta, GA announced the sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service investigated this case, with the cooperation of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald is prosecuting the case.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or at http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov, under case number 21-cr-20495-Williams.


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