Florida reptile dealer gets jail for turtle smuggling

A South Florida reptile dealer was sentenced Tuesday to seven months in prison and fined $100,000 for selling thousands of illegally caught Florida turtles, in an illicit trade driven largely by demand in Asia.

Michael Van Nostrand, who had been the subject of the best-selling book “The Lizard King,” used a network of collectors to catch turtles in the wild and then submitted documents that falsely claimed the turtles had been captive-bred.

His company, Strictly Reptiles of Hollywood, was fined $150,000 and placed on probation for five years. As part of the sentence, imposed by US District Judge Kathleen Williams, the company must pay for a monitor to oversee its business during its period of probation.

Van Nostrand illegally sold 3,475 turtles, including three-stripe mud turtles, Florida mud turtles, softshell turtles, musk turtles and chicken turtles, according to a statement submitted to the court that was signed by Van Nostrand. Their market value was about $245,000. The turtles were shipped to customers in Louisiana, California, Japan and China.

He falsely claimed they were captive bred to make it appear he was complying with a Florida ban on the commercial catch of turtles, imposed in 2009 as demand for them in Asia for food, pets and traditional medicine threatened to deplete the state’s turtle population.

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Get updates on developing stories as they happen with our free breaking news email alerts.

Van Nostrand, who pleaded guilty last November, also was sentenced to three years’ of supervised release, including one year of house arrest. The fines will be paid into the Lacey Act Reward Account, a federal account that’s used for the care and treatment of animals seized in investigations or court cases.

He has previously served prison time for buying smuggled wildlife.

His company on Stirling Road ships reptiles, amphibians and mammals to customers around the world. Among their products are ball pythons, boa constrictors, green tree pythons, rat snakes, scorpions, tarantulas and baby alligators

Van Nostrand’s lawyers argued for leniency, saying in a sentencing memorandum that he was suffering from kidney cancer and other health issues, raising the risk to him if he contracts COVID-19 in prison. They produced testimonials from employees, described his involvement in youth sports and called him a “fundamentally kind, compassionate man with a deep love and respect for all living things.”

Prosecutors argued that he was committing serious crimes that threatened native wildlife populations and that a significant sentence would be in line with penalties imposed on others who violated the law to smuggle wildlife out of the United States.

“Defendants and their co-conspirators in just two years removed almost 3,500 specimens from the wild,” they wrote. “Recent case law is rife with criminal prosecutions focused on the extraordinary loss of domestic reptile populations from the United States to the Asian pet trade.”

David Fleshler can be reached at [email protected] and 954-356-4535. Follow him on Twitter @DavidFleshler.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.