Demonstrating that the more prosaic reaches of export enforcement are alive and well, presecutors obtained a guilty plea in a federal court in Alexandria to turtle trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.
Stanlee Fazi confessed that between July 31, 2017, and June 29, 2020, he had illegally collected eastern box turtles from the wild and sold them to buyers in at least eight states. He conducted these sales via Facebook Marketplace, earning around $12,700 in the process.
Many of the purchasers subsequently smuggled the turtles from the United States to Hong Kong and China for the illegal pet trade. Mr. Fazi admitted to binding the turtles in socks and shipping them through FedEx from Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The Lacey Act, the country's oldest wildlife trafficking statute, prohibits transporting or selling wildlife in interstate commerce if the wildlife were illegally taken or possessed under state laws. Virginia state law also bans taking turtles from the wild or selling them. The maximum sentence under the Lacey Act includes five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
The eastern box turtle can grow up to six inches in length and live for over a century. Their domed carapace often displays radiated lines or spots, and turtles with colorful markings are especially sought after in the domestic and foreign pet trade market.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Offices of Law Enforcement in Baltimore and Vero Beach, Florida, led the investigation as part of Operation Middleman, which focused on the trafficking of reptiles from the United States to China.