Reptile dealer arrested for Lacey Act and firearms charges | Takeover bid
A South Carolina man was arrested on March 30 for Lacey Act and firearms. A federal judge in the Central District of Georgia unsealed the indictment today.
Ashtyn Michael Rance, 35, of Dalzell, was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Central District of Georgia on March 9 for trafficking in vipers and turtles, as well as unlawful possession of two firearms. US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) agents arrested Rance in Dalzell on a warrant to face charges in the Central District of Georgia.
The indictment alleges that in February 2018, Rance sold 16 spotted turtles and three eastern box turtles to a buyer in Florida. He shipped the reptiles from Valdosta in a package falsely labeled as containing tropical fish and lizards. The indictment also alleges that in May 2018, Rance sent a second package to Florida with a label indicating that it contained harmless reptiles and ball pythons. In reality, Rance had shipped 15 vipers from Gabon, which are venomous snakes. Finally, the indictment alleges that on May 11, 2018, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Rance’s home in Valdosta, where they recovered a Bushmaster Carbine .223 caliber rifle and a rifle. Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. It’s a violation of federal law for a convicted felon to own a firearm, and Rance has a previous felony conviction.
“Rance’s reckless shipping of venomous snakes and illegal possession of firearms demonstrates the dangers of wildlife trafficking,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Division of Environment and of Natural Resources (ENRD) of the Ministry of Justice. “I commend our federal and state law enforcement partners for keeping the public and delivery couriers safe.”
“Illegal wildlife trafficking can have devastating effects, and our office will prosecute those found guilty of violating the Lacey Act and other environmental protection laws,” the U.S. attorney said per acting Peter D. Leary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Georgia. “I want to thank the US Fish and Wildlife Service, ATF and Georgia DNR for their work investigating this matter.”
“Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that impacts species at home and abroad,” said Special Agent in Charge Stephen Clark of the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement. . “I would like to thank the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Natural Resources for their assistance in this matter. Together , we have prevented the smuggling of highly venomous snakes and wildlife from our country.”
Rance owned and sold the reptiles in violation of Georgian laws. The federal Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest wildlife trafficking law and prohibits, among other things, the transportation of wildlife in interstate commerce if the wildlife was illegally held under state law. It is also a violation of the Lacey Law to falsely label a package containing wild animals.
The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttatalisten)) is a semi-aquatic turtle native to the eastern United States and the Great Lakes region. The eastern box turtle (terrapene carolina carolina) is endemic to forested regions of the East Coast and Midwest. Collectors enjoy both species in the domestic and overseas pet trade market. The Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonicalisten)) is native to central sub-Saharan Africa. Its venom can cause shock, unconsciousness or death in humans.
The maximum sentence under the Lacey Act and the firearms charges is five and 10 years in prison, respectively, and a $250,000 fine for each charge.
The USFWS Office of Law Enforcement in Vero Beach, Florida; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Georgian Ministry of Natural Resources conducted the investigation as part of Operation Middleman. The operation concerned the trafficking of reptiles from the United States to China.
General Counsel Ryan Connors of the ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonja Profit for the Central District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is just an accusation and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty before a jury at trial.