Florida reptile trader sentenced to prison for smuggling turtles

A South Florida reptile dealer was sentenced to seven months in prison and fined $100,000 on Tuesday for selling thousands of illegally captured Florida turtles, in an illicit trade driven largely by demand for Asia.

Michael Van Nostrand, who had been the subject of bestseller ‘The Lizard King,’ used a network of collectors to catch turtles in the wild, then submitted documents falsely claiming the turtles had been bred in captivity .

His company, Strictly Reptiles of Hollywood, was fined $150,000 and put on probation for five years. As part of the sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams, the company must pay a monitor to oversee its activities during his probationary period.

Van Nostrand illegally sold 3,475 turtles, including three-striped mud turtles, Florida mud turtles, softshell turtles, musk turtles and chicken turtles, according to a statement submitted to court and signed by Van Nostrand . Their market value was around $245,000. The turtles were shipped to customers in Louisiana, California, Japan and China.

He falsely claimed they were bred in captivity to look like he was complying with a Florida ban on the commercial capture of turtles, imposed in 2009 amid demand in Asia for food, pets company and traditional medicine threatened to deplete the state’s turtle population.

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Van Nostrand, who pleaded guilty last November, was also sentenced to three years of probation, including one year of house arrest. Fines will be paid into the Lacey Act Reward Account, a federal account used for the care and treatment of animals seized in connection with investigations or court cases.

He has already served time in prison for buying smuggled wild animals.

His business on Stirling Road ships reptiles, amphibians and mammals to customers around the world. Among their products are ball pythons, boa constrictors, green pythons, rat snakes, scorpions, tarantulas and baby alligators.

Van Nostrand’s lawyers pleaded for clemency, saying in a sentencing memorandum he suffered from kidney cancer and other health issues, increasing the risk to him if he contracted COVID-19 in prison . They produced employee testimonials, described his involvement in youth sports, and called him “a fundamentally kind and compassionate man with deep love and respect for all living beings.”

Prosecutors argued he was committing serious crimes that threatened native wildlife populations and that a significant sentence would be consistent with penalties for others who violated the law to smuggle wildlife out of states. -United.

“The defendants and their accomplices in just two years collected nearly 3,500 specimens from the wild,” they wrote. “Recent case law abounds with criminal lawsuits focused on the extraordinary loss of United States domesticated reptile populations to the Asian pet trade.”

David Fleshler can be reached at [email protected] and 954-356-4535. Follow him on Twitter @DavidFleshler.

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