Reptile dealer convicted of shipping poisonous snakes and turtles
Feb. 26 – VALDOSTA – A Florida reptile dealer caught shipping poisonous snakes and turtles from his residence in Valdosta as part of “Operation Middleman,” a multi-agency investigation focused on reptile trafficking from the United States to China, was sentenced to prison for violating the Lacey Act and illegal possession of firearms.
Ashtyn Michael Rance, 35, of Miami, Florida, was sentenced to 33 months in prison on each count concurrently, followed by three years of supervised release and a $4,300 fine by the district judge American Hugh Lawson on February 23, after previously pleading guilty on November 18, 2021 to one count of trafficking under the Lacey Act and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Additionally, Lawson prohibited Rance from owning or selling wildlife while on probation.
According to court documents, Rance admitted that on February 22, 2018, he shipped three eastern box turtles and 16 spotted turtles from Valdosta to a customer in Florida, in a package falsely labeled as containing tropical fish and common lizards. He was paid $3,300 for the turtles and knew they were then trafficked to China.
Rance further admitted that on May 10, 2018, he shipped 15 Gabon vipers from Valdosta to Florida. The snakes were worth around $900 and were also headed for a buyer in China. He falsely labeled the package as containing harmless reptiles and ball pythons. Rance had legally imported 100 Gaboon vipers and other venomous snakes from Africa to Atlanta. He received a special permit to transport the snakes out of Georgia, but then returned to Valdosta with 16 vipers.
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 illegal under state law. It is also a violation of the Lacey Law to falsely label a package containing wild animals.
Additionally, Rance admitted to possessing a Bushmaster Carbine .223 caliber rifle and a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun at his Valdosta residence which he was prohibited from possessing as a convicted felon.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in Vero Beach, Florida, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducted the investigation as part of Operation Middleman . Trial Attorney Ryan Connors of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonja Profit for the Central District of Georgia prosecuted the case.