Reptile dealer sentenced to jail for Lacey Law and firearms charges | Takeover bid
A federal judge in Valdosta, Georgia, yesterday sentenced Ashtyn Michael Rance, 35, to 33 months in prison on each count to run concurrently, a $4,300 fine and three years of post-release supervision. The judge also prohibited Rance from owning or selling wildlife during the watch period. Rance pleaded guilty on November 18, 2021 to violations of the Lacey Act and unlawful possession of firearms.
In pleading guilty, 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 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. 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 is illegal 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, where they are resold for thousands of dollars. The Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonicalisten)) is native to central sub-Saharan Africa. Its venom can cause shock, unconsciousness or death in humans. Authorities intercepted the package containing the vipers to minimize the risk of it being bitten or escaping.
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 Law Enforcement Office 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. The government is represented by General Counsel Ryan Connors of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant United States Attorney Sonja Profit for the Central District of Georgia.