LAWFUEL – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David W. Bourne, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Criminal Investigations, Miami Field Office, and Eddie McKissick, Miami Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, announced that Strictly Reptile, Inc., of Hollywood, Florida, was convicted and sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale for its role in the illegal sale and offer for sale of undersized turtles, contrary to the Public Health Service Act, Title 42, United States Code, Sections 271(a).
The Honorable William P. Dimitrouleas, United States District Court Judge, accepted Strictly Reptile’s plea of guilty and imposed sentence in the matter. Pursuant to a written plea agreement in the case and the Court’s Order, Strictly Reptile forfeited almost 7,000 turtles and tortoises seized by government agents at the business on May 2, 2008, in the course of executing a federal search warrant. The company was also ordered to pay immediately a criminal fine of $5,000 and placed on two years’ probation.
The Court further ordered Strictly Reptile to implement a business practice requiring it to secure a signed notice document from every buyer of undersized turtles that they are aware of the legal restrictions placed on the sale or holding for sale of these specimens, and to file semi-annual reports during the period of probation to the Court’s Probation Officer, the United States Attorney’s Office, the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations and the Fish & Wildlife Service documenting Strictly Reptile’s inventory and sales of undersized turtles and providing copies of all invoices and executed notices.
According to the criminal Information and statements in court, turtles, which term under the controlling regulations encompasses all species generally referred to as turtles, tortoises, and terrapins, with the exception of marine sea turtles, are prohibited from being held for sale, intended for sale, or sold, if the turtles have carapace (shell) lengths of less than four inches, unless the sale is for bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibitional purposes, other than use as pets. According to court statements and the history of the controlling federal regulations, the limitation was put in place in 1975 to deal with the hidden bacteriological threat posed by undersized turtles. Public health investigators had identified undersized turtles as a significant source of salmonella and other infections, particularly in small children who were prone to handling the turtles without washing their hands afterwards, or inserting the turtles into their mouths. In fact, the State of Louisiana, where many “turtle farms” were located historically, implemented state legislation to attempt to improve the sanitation issues associated with the raising ands sale of baby turtles.
The Information specifically charged that Strictly Reptile had made a sale of approximately 1,000 undersized turtles on March 3, 2008, from its Hollywood business location to a tourist souvenir business in Panama City, Florida. Strictly Reptile would charge between $2.75 and $3.00 for the turtles it was supplying and the tropical department store would re-sell the turtles for $14.99 each. The government further alleged that the principal of Strictly Reptile admitted to investigators that he engaged in wilful blindness, that is, intentionally not asking customers the purpose for which the turtles were being purchased in order not to lose sales.
Mr. Acosta commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Criminal Investigations, Miami Field Office and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who with the assistance of FDA’s Center For Veterinary Medicine who brought the investigation leading to the Information. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.