By Rhishja Cota-Larson
A turtle trafficker identified as David Feltenberger of Okeechobee, Florida, has been sentenced to 90 days in prison followed by 90 days of house arrest, three years of supervised release, 250 hours of community service, and a $20,000 fine for exporting wild-caught turtles to China. An undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found that Feltenberger was using his FWCC Turtle Aquaculture Brood Stock Collection Permit and his aquaculture facility known as the Big Lake Fish Farm II (Florida Hydrofarms LLC) to launder wild turtles as captive-bred.
According to court documents, 23 turtles were caught in the wild and sold to Feltenberger on October 23, 2011. The turtles were marked with electronic devices by the undercover agent. On October 27, 2011, 3,025 pounds of live turtles from Big Lake Fish Farm II were shipped from Orlando International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Feltenberger’s signature was on the airway bill.
Law enforcement agents at LAX inspected the turtle shipment and identified 12 of the 23 turtles that had been marked by the agent in a shipment of turtles consigned for export to China.
The undercover agent sold another batch of electronically marked turtles to Feltenberger on November 5, 2011. Ten of these turtles were discovered on November 11, 2011, by U.S. Fish & Wildlife inspectors at LAX. The turtles were part of a shipment destined for China, and the shipper was Big Lake Fish Farm II.
In violation of his FWCC Permit, Feltenberger purchased wild-caught turtles and instead of holding them on his aquaculture facility to use as brood stock, Feltenberger repeatedly shipped the live turtles to China, in violation of the Lacey Act.
Feltenberger was charged with conspiracy to export turtles in interstate and foreign commerce in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371 incorporating the Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(A).
One of Feltenberger’s employees, Christopher Craig, was sentenced to two years of probation and 50 hours of community service for assisting Feltenberger with his turtle scheme.
Craig facilitated the purchase and packaging of Florida softshell turtles (Apalone ferox), which were caught in the wild. The turtles were sold to buyers in China using brokers in Los Angeles.