Reptile dealer sentenced in Georgia for smuggling poisonous snakes

GEORGIA — A reptile dealer is heading to jail after authorities say he trafficked poisonous turtles and snakes from his home in Georgia.

A judge recently sentenced Ashtyn Michael Rance, 35, from Florida, to 33 months in prison. He was also fined $4,300 and will serve three years of supervision after his release.

Rance pleaded guilty Nov. 18, 2021, to unlawful possession of firearms and violation of the Lacey Act, which is the nation’s oldest wildlife trafficking law and prohibits the transportation of wild animals in interstate commerce. whether the wildlife is illegal under state law.

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In pleading guilty, prosecutors said 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 fish. common lizards. He was paid $3,300 for the turtles and knew they were then trafficked to China.

Credit: United States Department of Justice

Prosecutors also said he admitted that on May 10, 2018, he shipped 15 Gaboon 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.

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Rance had legally imported 100 Gaboon vipers and other venomous snakes from Africa into Atlanta, authorities said. He received a special permit to transport the snakes out of Georgia, but then returned to Valdosta with 16 vipers. Their venom can cause shock, unconsciousness or death in humans.

Credit: United States Department of Justice

Additionally, authorities said Rance admitted to possessing a Bushmaster Carbine .223 caliber rifle and a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun in his Valdosta home that he was prohibited from possessing as a convicted felon. .

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement in Vero Beach, Florida, ATF and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducted the investigation as part of the Southern Surge Task Force’s “Operation Middleman.” The operation concerned the trafficking of reptiles from the United States to China.

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