By Mark Hallum
The East Elmhurst man responsible for lifting a rare tortoise from its Douglaston habitat was sentenced to six months behind bars Thursday on charges of fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property.
Shawn Waters, 37, pleaded guilty last month to breaking into the confines of the Alley Pond 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’s summer escapade that included crossing state lines has drawn to a close with today’s sentencing of the defendant,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. “The rare reptile is safely ensconced in his habitat and now the defendant, who admitted to possessing the stolen tortoise, will be confined to Rikers Island for the next six months. This should serve as a warning to everyone that my office will pursue justice for all those in Queens County – whether they are warm- or cold-blooded citizens.”
According to Brown, the African spurred tortoise has a value of $2,500.
Waters created a post on Craigslist that Millenium was for sale and, after some bartering, exchanged the tortoise with a man at the Metro-North station in Fairfield, Conn., for $300 and a musk turtle.
Millenium’s new owner came to believe the tortoise was stolen after seeing a series of news reports before finally alerting the authorities that he had the tortoise they were looking for.
Millenium was turned over to the care of the 111th Precinct, which returned it to the environmental center.
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.”
Thousands of school children make the trek to Alley Pond to see Millenium every, Sicard said.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall