SAN FRANCISCO – LAWFUEL – The Legal Newswire – United States Attorney Scott N. Schools announced yesterday that Coleman Lau, 29, of San Francisco, California pleaded guilty to one felony count of smuggling and one felony count of making a false statement to a U.S. official. Mr. Lau was initially charged with attempting to smuggle in 14 live, juvenile Fly River turtles, and lying about it on U.S. Customs documents. Fly River turtles are fresh-water turtles native to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia, which grow to be approximately two feet long. At the time of the smuggling, they enjoyed a protected status from each of their native countries. The species is now further protected by the international treaty CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Mr. Lau admitted that during a customs inspection at San Francisco Airport in March 2004, he was found with 14 live, baby turtles hidden on his person. Mr. Lau further admitted that he knew it was illegal to bring the turtles into the United States and that he lied on the customs declaration regarding whether or not he was bringing wildlife into the United States. Customs officials seized the turtles and handed them over to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who, in turn, found homes for them at various zoos and aquariums in the State of California, as well as one research center. Mr. Lau admitted in Court that he is currently the manager of a local aquarium store, and has been for the past several years. Fly River turtles can sell for $500 each.
Mr. Lau is scheduled to be sentenced on February 14, 2007 in front of the Honorable Vaughn Walker, United States District Judge. He faces a maximum penalty for each count of five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and 3 years of supervised release. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. Stacey Geis is the Assistant U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting the case.