By Mark Hallum
The East Elmhurst man who authorities say was responsible for lifting a rare tortoise from its Douglaston habitat was sentenced to six months behind bars last Friday on charges of fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property.
Shawn Waters, 37, pleaded guilty last month to that charge, which stems from his sale of the stolen tortoise to a man in Connecticut. Authorities say Waters broke into the Alley Pond Environmental Center in July by creating a hole in the pen holding the 17-year-old tortoise, Millenium.
“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.”
The African spurred tortoise has a value of $2,500, Brown said.
After the tortoise was stolen, Waters posted on Craigslist that Millenium was for sale, and after some bartering, he exchanged the animal with a man at the Metro-North station in Fairfield, Conn., for $300 plus a musk turtle.
Millenium’s new owner came to believe the tortoise was stolen after seeing news reports. He then alerted the authorities that he had the amphibian 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 cellphone number used to arrange the exchange.
The theft of Millenium sparked strong reactions in Queens and beyond. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals even offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the tortoise’s safe return.
“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.
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.”
Thousands of schoolchildren make the trek to Alley Pond to see Millenium every year, Sicard said.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall