MIAMI (AP) — A convicted wildlife smuggler who still operates as a leading buyer and seller of reptiles has been accused by federal prosecutors of scheming to smuggle illegally harvested Florida turtles to China, Japan and other places.
Michael Van Nostrand, his company, Strictly Reptiles Inc. of Davie, Florida, established network of “collectors" who searched the Florida wilds for certain fresh-water turtle specimens, including the three-stripe mud turtle, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a news release.
The collectors and Van Nostrand then falsely labeled the turtles as having been bred in captivity, rather than caught in the wild, according to court documents.
Van Nostrand, 54, made his first appearance in federal magistrate court in Miami on Tuesday in the turtle-smuggling case, which was investigated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He’s charged with conspiring with others to illegally traffic wildlife and faces up to five years in prison a fine of at least $250,000 if convicted. His company faces a fine of at least $500,000.
Florida banned the commercial catch of turtles in 2009. In Asia the turtles are used for meat, as ingredients in traditional medicine and as pets, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
Van Nostrand declined comment to the newspaper. The name of a lawyer who could speak on his behalf was not immediately known.
Van Nostrand gained notoriety through “The Lizard King," a 2008 bestseller that described a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent's years-long investigation of his business. He was ultimately sentenced to eight months in prison in 1998 for buying smuggled Argentine boas, tegu lizards and other protected wildlife, and required to pay $250,000 to the World Wildlife Fund.