Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Two Japanese men arrested for trying to smuggle live TURTLES into the U.S. in cereal boxes


Turtle tourists: A U.S attorney's office photo shows turtles that were confiscated Los Angeles International Airport after a foiled smuggling attempt

More than 50 endangered creatures caught in 'Operation Flying Turtle'

Two Japanese men have been arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after attempting to smuggling more than 50 live turtles into the U.S.

The men, both from Osaka, were arrested on Friday at LAX as part of a investigation into live animal smuggling known as 'Operation Flying Turtle'.

The pair had hidden turtles and tortoises in snack food boxes inside a suitcase and could face up to 21 years in prison if convicted.

Atsushi Yamagami, 39, and Norihide Ushirozako, 49, both Japanese citizens, are charged in a two-count criminal complaint that alleges one count of illegally importing wildlife into the United States, a smuggling offense that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

The men are also charged with one count of violating the Endangered Species Act, a misdemeanour that carries a statutory maximum penalty of one year in prison.

The pair were part of a smuggling ring that officers working with Operation Flying Turtle had infiltrated in recent months.

Snack-based smuggling: The turtles were concealed in small sacks hidden inside biscuit and cracker boxes

The U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Customs and Borders Protection and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department's Homeland Security Investigations were all involved in Operation Flying Turtle, which began last year after U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents learned of a live animal smuggling ring.

'In August 2010, Hiroki Uetsuki, an associate of Yamagami and Ushirozako, traveled from Osaka, Japan, and arrived at Honolulu International Airport,' where turtles were discovered in his suitcase, prosecutors said.

'After U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents arrested Uetsuki, he informed the agents that Yamagami paid him approximately 100,000 yen ($1,200) and his travel expenses to smuggle turtles and tortoises into the United States,' officials added.

Tiny visitors: A U.S. Attorney's Office photo confirms the diminutive size of the smuggled turtles

Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE's Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, added: 'The plundering and smuggling of rare plants and animals to satisfy the desires of hobbyists is not only shameful, in some circumstances it can pose a threat to public safety and the environment.'

Yamagami and Ushirozako's smuggling attempt, which saw Chinese big-headed turtles and Indian star tortoises, among other variants, packed inside cookie and cracker boxes, was one a number of bizarre attempts at concealment at LAX in recent years.

A man was charged with smuggling in 2002 at the airport after attempting to sneak birds of paradise, orchids and pygmy monkeys - the latter inside his underwear - into LAX, while another attempted smuggler was charged last year with trying to get through the airport with 15 live lizards attached to his chest.

source: dailymail

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