Freehold Man Pleads Guilty to Smuggling and Selling Turtles from Oklahoma
A Freehold man has plead guilty in federal court to conspiring with others to purchase, transport and sell more than 1,000 box turtles that were unlawfully collected from Oklahoma, announced U.S. Attorney Trent Shores.
Between May 1, 2017, and May 31, 2018, investigators say that 26-year old William Gangemi 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.
He was also 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, Attorney Trent Shores said that 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 $350.00 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.
Shores said that 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,” U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said. “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.”
As part of his plea agreement, Gangemi agreed to pay $250,000.00 in restitution to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and a $100,000.00 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 January 27, 2020.
Gangemi also plead 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.