Gerard Kruse, 42, a social worker who lives in Oviedo, Florida, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, to 13 Lacey Act violations for his role in the trade of illegally caught snakes, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced.
Kruse pleaded guilty to seven counts of illegal transport of wildlife and six counts of illegal receipt of wildlife, which under the facts of the case are misdemeanors under the Lacey Act. At the time of the crimes, Kruse was living in Douglaston, New York. In court documents, Kruse admitted that between 2008 and 2012, he knowingly participated in violations, which involved the illegal collection, transport and receipt of 59 snakes that were collected from and protected by various states, such as New Jersey, California and Oregon. Under the Lacey Act, it is illegal to knowingly ship or receive snakes in interstate commerce that were taken in violation of state law. During the course of his conduct, Kruse personally collected protected snakes and shipped them to collectors in other states. Sometimes he received money for the reptiles; other times he bartered snakes. In addition, Kruse would solicit snakes from out-of-state collectors, while knowing that those collectors had procured their snakes illegally. The last charge of the information deals with Kruse’s involvement in the shipment of a diamondback rattlesnake from Texas to Douglaston in a coffee can, in violation of U.S. Postal regulations.
The Lacey Act is an important statute for protecting our nation’s wildlife against those who make enforcement of state laws difficult by crossing state lines with protected species,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “All of our protected species, including reptiles, are important to our ecosystems and must be shielded from such illegal trafficking. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously support efforts against domestic wildlife trafficking.”
According to the terms of the pela agreement, the government will seek 13 months of home confinement with electronic monitoring, a request which is unopposed by the defense. In addition, Kruse has agreed to be placed on probation and subject to special conditions such as forfeiture of his snakes and being banned from the collection, sale and trade of reptiles and amphibians. Terms of Kruse’s sentence that the parties could not agree on will be decided at a sentencing hearing set for Dec. 15, 2015.
The case was investigated by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of Operation Kingsnake. The case is being prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division.