The grand jury indictment of David Sommers, of Levittown, Pennsylvania, was handed down Tuesday in the federal court in Philadelphia. Sommers is accused of poaching the turtles and their eggs from a swath of coastal marshes located in nearby New Jersey.
The turtles, which dwell on land as well as fresh and salt water, feature a “distinctive coloration” and diamond pattern which makes them “highly susceptible to illegal poaching and smuggling,” according to a statement from the Justice Department.
According to the indictment, Sommers poached hatchlings from New Jersey in 2017 and later shipped them from his home to buyers in Canada.
To cast off suspicion when sending the protected turtles through the mail, Sommers allegedly falsified packing slips, claiming the boxes he was sending were filled with books.
Selling diamondback turtles is a violation of the nation’s oldest anti-trafficking statute for wildlife. The statute, known as the Lacey Act, bars the sale of any animals with protected status.
The diamondback terrapins are protected by both New Jersey law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora treaty, or CITES.
CITES listed the diamondback terrapin as threatened in 2013. New Jersey banned the collection or transport of the reptiles in 2016.
No trial date has been set. If convicted, in addition to the possible 10 years in prison for smuggling, Sommers could also be sentenced to an additional five years for violating the Lacey Act.