One man from North Caroline has been slammed with an 18-month prison sentence this past Wednesday for the collecting and trafficking of three different species of turtles out of the U.S. and into Asia.
Aged 48, Jesse James Freeman officially pleaded guilty in September of 2020 to violations of the Lacey Act, which is a statute that bans the transporting of wildlife if it has been taken illegally under the original state’s laws, stated the Department of Justice (DOJ) in a release.
“In pleading guilty, Freeman admitted that between January 2017 and September 2018, he supplied turtles to middlemen throughout the country so they could smuggle them to Asia,” read the DOJ release. “He collected the turtles himself and hired poachers to illegally obtain them throughout North Carolina. Freeman trafficked at least 722 eastern box turtles, 122 spotted turtles and three wood turtles.”
The total worth of that group of turtles came out to be $1.5 million in Asia, and Freeman personally was set to make out with 121,000 for being a supplier to smugglers for the turtles. The three turtle species in particular that Freeman actually admitted to trafficking are worth quite a bit by many collectors in the “domestic and foreign pet trade market,” as stated by the DOJ.
“The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is the North Carolina state reptile and endemic to forested regions of the East Coast and Midwest. The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) and wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) are semi-aquatic turtles native to the eastern United States and Great Lakes region,” stated the DOJ by way of explanation. “Poaching can have devastating impacts on all three turtle species given the low survival rate of hatchlings and the time it takes to reach sexual maturity.”
The wood, eastern box, and spotted turtle species are all heavily protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As stated by CITES, while these particular species are not classified as endangered, their survival could be in danger due to entirely unregulated trade.
“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting our native species from international trafficking,” stated Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division throughout the press release from the DOJ. “Today’s sentence is the latest example that there are severe consequences to those who violate the Lacey Act by exploiting turtles.”
Freeman, in addition to having to serve his 18-month prison sentence, will also be made to work through three years of post-release supervision and pay a $25,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Fund.