An East Elmhurst man faces six months in jail after admitting on Thursday to stealing a 17-year-old tortoise from the Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC) in Douglaston earlier this year.
Shawn Waters, 37, of 103rd Street pleaded guilty on Dec. 7 to a fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property charge, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown announced.
The tortoise trouble began on July 16, when Waters removed Millenium, an African spurred tortoise, from the environmental center located on Northern Boulevard. Workers at the facility realized the reptile was missing after spotting a hole in a rear fence enclosure.
Millenium first arrived at APEC 10 years ago and quickly became a favorite among young guests, according to Sasha Sicard, an executive assistant at the center. Though considered priceless among many, the 95-pound tortoise is valued at approximately $2,500.
The day after Millenium’s disappearance, prosecutors said, Waters responded to a Craigslist ad posted by a Stamford, CT, man who advertised a musk turtle for sale. In a phone conversation, Waters offered to trade an African spurred tortoise for the turtle.
On July 23, law enforcement sources said, Waters traveled up to Fairfield, CT, and met with the Connecticut turtle trader at a Metro-North station. Waters provided the man with the tortoise in exchange for the musk turtle and $300 in cash.
The Connecticut man, upon seeing news reports about Millenium’s disappearance, contacted the 111th Precinct Detective Squad, believing it might be the stolen reptile. A detective recovered the tortoise and an APEC employee later identified it as Millenium.
Police tracked down Waters on Aug. 1; he had been released two days later on $10,000 bond, according to court records.
“Millenium the tortoise is safely back within the confines of his habitat at APEC and the person responsible for the illegal summertime travel across state lines will also be confined — to Rikers Island,” Brown said. “Let this be a warning that my office will pursue justice for all those in Queens County — including rare tortoises.”