By Beth Dalbey
Trial delayed until June for Kai Xu, arrested at U.S.-Canada border with 50 turtles tucked in his underpants and strapped to his body.
Remember that illegal wildlife smuggling operation busted open last September when a Windsor, Ontario, man tried to cross the U.S.-Canada border with dozens of turtles hidden in his underpants and strapped to his body?
Federal prosecutors and Kai Xu’s lawyers are negotiating a plea deal in the notorious case, and Xu’s trial in U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor has been delayed until June 16, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Xu had been the subject of an undercover investigation for several weeks when he was arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents in September.
Authorities had received a tip that he routinely placed online orders for turtles, received the shipments in the United States, and then traveled from Canada to the U.S. to pick them up or ship them to China.
Both Xu and his suspected partner, Lihua Lin, of Toronto, were arrested after Lin allegedly tried to smuggle 200 turtles in his luggage on a flight to Shanghai, China.
Authorities have said the arrest at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel was one in a string of bizarre smuggling attempts to feed the voracious appetite for the reptiles worldwide. Some are destined for the dinner table, but others are smuggled as pets. The turtle market is especially lucrative in China and other Asian countries.
“You see some extreme cases in which people try to smuggle things. Although this sounds really extreme, we see cases like this across the nation,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Melissa Maraj told The Detroit News at the time of Xu’s arrest.“People use a lot of ingenuity and creativity. …”
The 50 turtles Xu allegedly concealed in his pants included Eastern box turtles, diamondback Terrapins, endangered spotted turtles and red-eared sliders, which are considered one of the world’s worst invasive species. One of them would have fetched up to $800 in the illegal pet trade.
Officials with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service have said illegal wildlife trafficking is as lucrative as international drug smuggling, but significantly less risky.
Conservationists warn that as the illegal movement of turtles and tortoises skyrockets, little is done to track down “ significant traders or kingpins in the tortoise and turtle racket,” Chris Shepherd, of the Wildlife trade protection group Traffic, told The Huffington Post.