The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that four men have been charged for their involvement in the illegal trafficking of alligator snapping turtles.
Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in the world and can grow to weigh more than 200 pounds with a lifespan of more than 100 years. The turtles are designated as threatened with statewide extinction under Texas state law which strictly prohibits anyone from taking, capturing, transporting, or selling these turtles, or attempting to do so.
In one indictment, Travis Leger and Rickey Simon, both of Sulphur, Louisiana, and Jason Leckelt of Wilburton, Oklahoma, are charged with conspiracy and Lacey Act violations for illegally taking about 66 alligator snapping turtles in Texas and then transporting them back to their property in Sulphur, Louisiana, for sale in the Spring and Summer of 2016. In July 2016, federal agents seized 30 large alligator snapping turtles from ponds located at the defendants’ property in Sulphur, Louisiana, pursuant to a federal search warrant. The indictment also charges Leger with making a false statement to federal agents and charges Rickey Simon with destroying evidence during the execution of the federal warrant. In a separate indictment, Montaro Williams of Elton, Louisiana, is charged with a Lacey Act violation for illegally taking two alligator snapping turtles in Texas and then attempting to transport them to Louisiana for sale on Aug. 12, 2013.
Leger was arrested today in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and made his initial appearance in federal court there. Simon, Leckelt, and Williams were arrested earlier this month.
An indictment is an allegation based upon a finding of probable cause by a federal grand jury, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy, Lacey Act, and false statement charges and up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the destruction of evidence charge.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph E. Batte of the Eastern District of Texas and Senior Trial Attorney David P. Kehoe of the Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section, prosecuted the case. The case is being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.