Hunting News

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Three Men Plead Guilty to Conspiracy to Violate the Lacey Act by Illegally Trafficking Threatened Alligator Snapping Turtles



The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that Travis Leger and Rickey Simon, both of Sulphur, Louisiana, and Jason Leckelt of Wilburton, Oklahoma, have all pled guilty to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act by illegally trafficking alligator snapping turtles.

Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in the world and can grow to weigh more than 200 pounds with a lifespan of more than 100 years. The turtles are designated as threatened with statewide extinction under Texas State Law, which strictly prohibits anyone from taking, capturing, transporting, or selling these turtles, or attempting to do so. The turtles are also protected under Louisiana State Law, which makes it illegal to sell or barter for the turtles. The Lacey Act makes it a federal crime to engage in the interstate trafficking of wildlife taken in violation of state wildlife protection laws.

“Those who choose to exploit our precious wildlife resources threaten the existence of these rare reptiles,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston. “Protection of the turtles and the prevention of diseases that may spread by these actions make these prosecutions vital to the health of our natural wildlife.”

In April 2017, Leger, Leckelt, and Simon were charged in a six-count indictment. The conspiracy charged all defendants with illegally taking more than 60 large alligator snapping turtles during their multiple fishing trips to Texas in the spring and summer of 2016, and also with transporting the turtles back to a property in Sulphur, Louisiana, where they intended to sell the turtles. In July 2016, Federal agents seized about 30 large alligator snapping turtles from ponds located at a defendant’s property in Sulphur, Louisiana, pursuant to a federal search warrant.

As part of his guilty plea, Travis Leger admitted to selling a live, illegally taken, 171-pound turtle for $1,000 and another live, illegally taken, 168-pound turtle for $500 in May and June of 2016. The turtles were later seized by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agents from the buyer and are currently being cared for at a private facility. In sum, Leger admitted that the market value of all the turtles that he caught illegally in Texas and then sold in Louisiana during the course of the conspiracy was between $40,000 and $95,000. Leger also agreed to forfeit all of the turtles seized from his property in Sulphur, Louisiana, and will permit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to return to the property, drain the ponds, and seize all remaining alligator snapping turtles. Similarly, Jason Leckelt, who is Leger’s half-brother, admitted that the market value of the turtles that he illegally personally caught in Texas and sold in Louisiana during the course of the conspiracy was between $15,000 and $40,000.

Finally, Rickey Simon admitted that his role in the conspiracy included selling a 120-pound alligator snapping turtle, illegally caught in Texas, to an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent in May of 2016. In addition, Mr. Simon admitted that he obstructed justice by deleting text messages from his cell phone prior to being interviewed by a Special Agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the execution of the search warrant at the Sulphur property in July 2016. Simon deleted the text messages from his cell phone after Travis Leger called and warned him that game wardens were coming to the Sulphur property to take the turtles out of the ponds. Simon also admitted that he subsequently made false statements to the Special Agent during the execution of the search warrant at the Sulphur property by denying that he had ever fished for alligator snapping turtles in Texas.

The defendants all face up to a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy convictions.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph R. Batte of the Eastern District of Texas and Senior Trial Attorney David P. Kehoe of the Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section, prosecuted the case. The case is being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Alleged Head of Wildlife Smuggling Ring Extradited from Australia



Guan Zong Chen (“Graham Chen”), a Chinese national was arraigned today in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts on charges that he led a conspiracy to illegally export (smuggle) $700,000 worth of wildlife items made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral from the United States to Hong Kong. Chen was arrested last year when he traveled from China to Australia and today’s hearing was his first court appearance on an indictment returned by a Boston grand jury in 2015 and unsealed in anticipation of the hearing.

According to the eight-count indictment, Chen purchased the wildlife artifacts at U.S. auction houses located in California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Texas. He conspired with another Chinese national, a recent college graduate in China to travel to the United States to pick up the purchased items and either hand carry or arrange for them to be mailed to another co-conspirator that owned a shipping business in Concord, Massachusetts. The shipper then repacked the wildlife items and exported (smuggled) them to Hong Kong with documents that falsely stated their contents and value and without obtaining required declarations and permits. In April 2014, Chen visited the United States and visited the shipper in Concord, Massachusetts. During the visit with the shipper, CHEN instructed the shipper to illegally export (smuggle) a sculpture made from elephant ivory to Hong Kong on Chen’s behalf and falsely declared it to be made of wood and worth $50.

The unsealing of the indictment and court appearance were was announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb of the District of Massachusetts. In announcing the case today, Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood and Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb expressed their appreciation to the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Attorney-General’s Department for their help in apprehending Chen and extraditing him to the United States.

Trade in rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral have been regulated since 1976 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 175 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife, and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets. Animals listed under CITES cannot be exported from the United States without prior notification to, and approval from, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

was apprehended as part of Operation Crash, an ongoing effort by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Department of Justice to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of and trafficking in protected species including rhinoceros and elephants.

An indictment contains allegations that crimes have been committed. A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation is continuing and is being handled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts and support on the extradition from DOJ's Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Marshals Services in the District of Massachusetts. The government is represented by Senior Litigation Counsel Richard A. Udell and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Four Men Charged With the Illegal Trafficking of Threatened Alligator Snapping Turtles



The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that four men have been charged for their involvement in the illegal trafficking of alligator snapping turtles.

Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in the world and can grow to weigh more than 200 pounds with a lifespan of more than 100 years. The turtles are designated as threatened with statewide extinction under Texas state law which strictly prohibits anyone from taking, capturing, transporting, or selling these turtles, or attempting to do so.

In one indictment, Travis Leger and Rickey Simon, both of Sulphur, Louisiana, and Jason Leckelt of Wilburton, Oklahoma, are charged with conspiracy and Lacey Act violations for illegally taking about 66 alligator snapping turtles in Texas and then transporting them back to their property in Sulphur, Louisiana, for sale in the Spring and Summer of 2016. In July 2016, federal agents seized 30 large alligator snapping turtles from ponds located at the defendants’ property in Sulphur, Louisiana, pursuant to a federal search warrant. The indictment also charges Leger with making a false statement to federal agents and charges Rickey Simon with destroying evidence during the execution of the federal warrant. In a separate indictment, Montaro Williams of Elton, Louisiana, is charged with a Lacey Act violation for illegally taking two alligator snapping turtles in Texas and then attempting to transport them to Louisiana for sale on Aug. 12, 2013.

Leger was arrested today in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and made his initial appearance in federal court there. Simon, Leckelt, and Williams were arrested earlier this month.

An indictment is an allegation based upon a finding of probable cause by a federal grand jury, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy, Lacey Act, and false statement charges and up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the destruction of evidence charge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph E. Batte of the Eastern District of Texas and Senior Trial Attorney David P. Kehoe of the Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section, prosecuted the case. The case is being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.