Convicted turtle trafficker Keith Cantore will spend the next three and a half years in prison for attempting to purchase 100 North American Wood Turtles for $40,000 in violation of the Lacey Act.
U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt handed down the sentence on August 5, 2015. Cantore was ordered to pay $41,000 in restitution and a $100 special assessment. His 41 months of jail time will be followed by three years of supervised release. The conviction came as a result of undercover operations conducted by agents from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Homeland Security Investigations, and the United States Postal Inspection Service. Assistant United States Attorney David Haller was in charge of the prosecution.
“The illicit trade in threatened and endangered species represents the destructive results of unfettered greed,” said Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer, head of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in New Orleans.
“The poaching of Wood Turtles has had a significant negative impact on its population in the wild. In effect, this defendant was willing to help drive this species to extinction to make a few bucks. Law enforcement agencies like HSI and our partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are eager to work with conservation services to stop the illegal trade in wildlife to ensure future generations get to enjoy these species in their native habitats.”
In June 2013, according to court documents, an individual identified as Lawrence Triegle, Jr., was under investigation by U.S. authorities because of “suspicious banking activity in the form of over $200,000 in wires received from Hong Kong”. Following the execution of a search warrant in June 2014, Triegle — who admitted that the wood turtles he was selling were wild-caught and thus illegal — agreed to cooperate with the investigators.
Triegle was contacted on July 18, 2014, via Facebook by Cantore, who stated, “I buy all morphs and oddballs and wholesale stock for my Chinese customers let me know what you have or can get me”. Cantore offered to pay $1,000 for each pair of wood turtles and told Triegle he would buy “all of them”. When Triegle informed Cantore that his friend would catch sub-adult and adult wood turtles from the wild, Cantore’s response was “Ok I want them get to catchin lol I want a bog pair damn it” (referring to bog turtles, protected under the Endangered Species Act). Cantore did not have a state license to deal in turtles, nor did he have valid permits to import or export wildlife.
Following multiple text messages about wood turtle transactions and agreeing on a price of $900 per pair, Cantore told Triegle to send the turtles to his home at 5048 West Margaret Street, Monee, Illinois. Triegle received a USPS Express envelope containing four money orders totaling $3,600, for four pairs of wood turtles at $900 each. Law enforcement officers shipped four male and four female wood turtles to Cantore’s address, where a USPIS Inspector (in an undercover capacity as a mail carrier) obtained Cantore’s signature for the delivery on July 25, 2014.
During August 2014, Cantore and Triegle negotiated a deal for 50 pairs of wood turtles for $40,000. On September 5, 2014, Cantore was on his way from Illinois to collect the turtles from Triegle in Louisiana. The authorities were prepared; Cantore was stopped for a traffic violation and would not consent to a vehicle search. He and his passenger Nicholas Young were taken to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s office where they were interviewed by agents from USFWS, Homeland Security Investigations and USPIS.
Meanwhile, a state search warrant for Cantore’s vehicle was issued. Inside the BMW SUV were ten boxes containing various species of turtles — and $20,000 cash.
Cantore has a history of illegal turtle trade. In 2005, he was charged with “knowingly selling and offering to sell various turtle species, with a carapace length less than 4 inches in length, to the general public as pets, knowing the undersized turtles were sold in violation of and in a manner unlawful under the laws and regulations of the United States”. It took three years for the case to be heard, and on August 6, 2008, the jury found him guilty.
“We the jury find the defendant Keith Cantore, Guilty of the charge of Offering Undersized Turtles for Sale as alleged in Count 3 of the Indictment.”
The Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. This species is listed under CITES Appendix II, which allows for regulated legal trade.
“Remaining populations of Wood Turtles need to be considered carefully in land management practices, particularly forestry on public lands… Regulations against collection of animals from the wild need full enforcement.”
In the U.S., the wood turtle is native to Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. It is “possibly extinct” in Ohio. In Canada, this species occurs in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Québec.
Sadly, it comes as no surprise that the wood turtle population is decreasing.