(STL.News) – A New Jersey man pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to conspiring with others to purchase, transport and sell more than 1,000 box turtles that were unlawfully collected from the state of Oklahoma, announced U.S. Attorney Trent Shores.
From May 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018, William T. Gangemi, 26, of Freehold, New Jersey, knowingly facilitated the purchase and transport of unlawfully collected three-toed and western (ornate) box turtles from Oklahoma to New Jersey in order to sell them for profit. Gangemi was part of a syndicate of wildlife smugglers where protected turtles were exchanged back and forth between the United States and China.
By smuggling the turtles, Gangemi violated the Lacey Act, a federal law which makes it a felony to engage in the sale or purchase of protected wildlife with a market value in excess of $350 knowing that the wildlife was taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of laws or regulations of any state. In Oklahoma, the collection of both types of box turtles for commercial purposes is against the law. Box turtles reach sexual maturity at approximately 10 years of age and have a high nest and juvenile mortality rate. Due to these factors, the harvest of the turtles can have highly detrimental effects on populations.
“Oklahomans respect and value wildlife, and we don’t appreciate those who would seek to exploit our vulnerable wildlife populations for their corrupt greed. Laws created by Congress to protect wildlife, like the box turtle, will be enforced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Defendant Gangemi flagrantly violated state and federal laws by illegally collecting and exporting box turtles to the black market,” said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores. “As a result of the diligent investigative work undertaken by agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Mr. Gangemi must now face the consequences.”
“This case is an excellent example of how state and federal law enforcement agencies work together to combat the illegal wildlife trade,” said Phillip Land, a Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We would like to thank the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the U. S. Attorney’s Office for their assistance with this case. Together, we can hold traffickers accountable and protect imperiled species for future generations.”
As part of his plea agreement, Gangemi agreed to pay $250,000 in restitution to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and a $100,000 fine to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violation of the Lacey Act. The final restitution and fine amounts will be determined by the Court at the time of sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2020.
Gangemi also pleaded guilty to additional federal charges for trafficking wildlife in South Carolina and New Jersey.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan M. Roberts is prosecuting the case.