MIAMI (AP) — A Florida man has been sentenced to seven months in federal prison followed by a year of home confinement for his part in a scheme to smuggle illegally harvested Florida turtles to China, Japan and other places.
Michael Van Nostrand, 55, of Davie, was sentenced Tuesday in Miami federal court, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to illegally traffic wildlife. Van Nostrand also must pay $100,000 to a congressionally authorized fund that pays for the care, treatment and rehabilitation of wildlife. Van Nostrand's company, Strictly Reptiles Inc., must pay $150,000 to the same fund.
According to court documents, Van Nostrand and others established a network of “collectors" who searched the Florida wilds for certain freshwater turtle specimens, including the three-stripe mud turtle, from April 2017 through April 2019. The collectors and Van Nostrand then falsely labeled the turtles as having been bred in captivity, rather than caught in the wild, prosecutors said.
Florida banned the commercial catch of turtles in 2009. Prosecutors noted in court filings that significant pressure is being placed on native species, especially turtles and tortoises, throughout the United States to satisfy the black market pet trade and that the U.S. is facing the specter of some species becoming extinct in the wild because of illegal poaching activities.
Van Nostrand gained notoriety through “The Lizard King," a 2008 bestseller that described a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent's yearslong investigation of his business. He was ultimately sentenced to eight months in prison in 1998 for buying smuggled Argentine boas, tegu lizards and other protected wildlife, and required to pay $250,000 to the World Wildlife Fund.