Florida reptile store owner sentenced to prison for smuggling turtles
A Davie man known as the Lizard King is going to federal prison again – this time for smuggling illegally harvested Florida turtles from the United States to China, Japan and other countries.
Last year, Michael Van Nostrand, 55, was charged with conspiracy to traffic illegal wildlife in interstate and foreign commerce after investigators said he snatched turtles from their habitats wild animals and sold them as “bred in captivity”. He pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami in November.
In 1997, Van Nostrand was sentenced to eight months in federal prison after being convicted of importing wild animals without a valid permit and two counts of prohibited acts with an endangered species. He also had to pay a fine of $7,500.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service investigation of Van Nostrand was chronicled in Brian Christy’s 2008 book “The Lizard King”.
In the most recent case, investigators say Van Nostrand and his company Strictly Reptiles ran the illegal operation from April 2017 to April 2019.
According to court records, a network of “collectors” captured mostly Florida Three-banded Mud Turtles (Kinosternon baurii).
“They then marketed and sold the turtles as ‘captive bred’ to domestic and international customers to make it look like the turtles had been obtained legally,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida said in a statement. Press release.
About 3,500 Florida freshwater turtles were illegally acquired and sold, investigators say.
In addition to seven months in prison, Van Nostrand was also sentenced to three years of probation, the first year of which will be served under house arrest. Van Nostrand, who cannot trade in wildlife while on probation, will also have to pay a $100,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Fund, which is used for wildlife rehabilitation.
His attorneys had requested probation and no jail time due to multiple medical conditions, records show.
Strictly Reptiles Inc. was given five years probation, a $150,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Fund, and oversight by an independent monitor/auditor.