By Mark Hallum
The East Elmhurst man arrested in August for kidnapping a rare tortoise from Alley Pond Environmental Center in Bayside pleaded guilty on Dec. 7 to fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property.
Shawn Waters, 37, broke into the confines of the environmental center by creating a hole in the pen holding the 17-year-old tortoise, Millenium, and was apprehended in Connecticut a week later.
“Millenium the tortoise is safely back within the confines of his habitat at APEC and the person responsible for the illegal summer-time travel across state lines will also be confined — to Rikers Island,” Brown said. “The defendant has now admitted his guilt and will go to jail as punishment for possessing the stolen reptile. Let this be a warning that my office will pursue justice for all those in Queens County – including rare tortoises.”
According to Brown, the African spurred tortoise has a value of $2,500.
Waters, who lives in East Elmhurst, posted a notice that Millenium was for sale on Craigslist and exchanged the tortoise with a man at the Metro-North station in Fairfield, Conn., for $300 plus a musk turtle.
The man who bartered for Millenium found out through news reports that the tortoise was stolen and turned Millenium over to a detective from the 111th Precinct.
Police tracked Waters by the cell phone number used to arrange the exchange between the defendant and the Connecticut man.
Queens Criminal Court Judge Gia Morris said Waters is looking at six months in Rikers upon sentencing on Jan. 18.
The theft of Millenium sparked strong reactions in Queens and beyond.
PETA even offered a $5,000 reward for information leading authorities to the whereabouts of Millennium in the hope the tortoise would be returned safely.
“Millennium was the victim of a brazen kidnapping and his fate now is unknown,” PETA Vice President of Communications Colleen O’Brien said at the time. “PETA is calling on anyone with information to come forward so that this tortoise can be safely returned and those responsible held accountable.”
Sasha Sicard, executive assistant at the Alley Pond Environmental Center, expressed grief at the loss of the animal and said many in the community shared her distress.
“We’ve had him for over 10 years,” Sicard said. “He was part of the community. We have some very upset children and adults who miss him. We would just like to have him back. Right now, we don’t have much information. For now, all we know is that it was a breaking and entering. We have damage to the gate. He lived in an outdoor closure. They left his friend ‘Mini-me’ inside — he stayed inside an outdoor garden.”
According to Sicard, thousands of schoolchildren visit the facility to see Millennium every year.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall