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Oakland Gardens man caught smuggling turtles: Feds

An Oakland Gardens man was arraigned in federal court on June 23 for a smuggling operation that pinned him in posession of over 170 exotic and endangered turtles.
Courtesy of Tennessee Aquarium
By Mark Hallum

OAKLAND GARDENS — An Oakland Gardens man was arraigned in federal court last week on suspicion of smuggling prohibited wildlife into the United States via the Postal Service, according to the Eastern District of U.S. Attorney’s office.

A wide variety of endangered turtle species were intercepted by Fish and Wildlife Service agents at Kennedy Airport in packages addressed to Hsien Lin Hsu and labeled as “snacks” by a sender in Hong Kong, according to the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office.

A total of 42 turtles were found upon inspection of the boxes May 4. The protected and prohibited amphibians were concealed in bags of noodles and small pieces of candy. The U.S. attorney’s office said experts from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Museum of Natural History identified the animals as yellow-margined Chinese box turtles, black-breasted leaf turtles, Reeves’ turtles, Indian roofed turtles, South American river turtles and Chinese big-headed turtles. The packages were delivered to the address listed and Hsu accepted the five parcels in a controlled delivery made by law enforcement and postal service inspector, the complaint said.

A search warrant was executed on Hsu’s Oakland Gardens home May 18 and an additional 135 live turtles were seized, all of which the defendant said were shipped from the same individual in Hong Kong. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Herpetology experts from the Bronx Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society identified 24 individual species of protected turtles in the home, the majority of which were born in the wild.

At the time of the search, Hsu cooperated with law enforcement agents, explaining that he knew of the special permit required by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to import turtles, and admitted to receiving packages from contacts in Hong Kong prior to the final bust, the complaint said.

Shippers in China had advised him to use a fake name on the packages so as not to get caught. Hsu, however, went with his real name, the complaint said.

— Mark Hallum

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