Three men plead guilty to illegally trafficking alligator snapping turtles from Texas

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Published 4:07 pm, Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Three men admitted in federal court that they illegally took live turtles from East Texas that are considered a threatened species and sold them out of the state.

Travis Joseph Leger, 40, and Rickey Paul Simon, 57, both of Sulphur, Louisiana, and Jason Gene Leckelt, 36, of Wilburton, Oklahoma, have all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act by illegally trafficking alligator snapping turtles, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

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According to prosecutors, the men conspired to illegally take more than 60 large alligator snapping turtles during multiple fishing trips to Texas in the spring and summer of 2016. The defendants transported the turtles back to a property in Sulphur, Louisiana, with the intent to sell them. In July 2016, Federal agents secured a search warrant and seized about 30 large alligator snapping turtles from ponds at the Louisiana property.

Leger admitted to selling a live 171-pound turtle for $1,000 and another live 168-pound turtle for $500 in 2016. The turtles were later seized by U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents from the buyer and are currently being cared for at a private facility.

The market value of the turtles varied between suspects. Leger said the turtles he caught in Texas and sold in Louisiana were valued between $40,000 and $95,000. Leckelt, who is Leger’s half-brother, said the turtles that he caught in Texas and sold in Louisiana were valued between $15,000 and $40,000.

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According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Simon admitted he lied to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent by denying that he ever fished for alligator snapping turtles in Texas. The federal agency also said Simon admitted to playing a role in selling a 120-pound alligator snapping turtle to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent.

The defendants each face up to five years in federal prison.

Alligator snapping turtles are designated as threatened with statewide extinction under Texas state law. It prohibits anyone from taking, capturing, transporting, or selling these turtles. The turtles are also protected under Louisiana state law, which makes it illegal to sell or barter for the turtles. The Lacey Act makes it a federal crime to engage in the interstate trafficking of wildlife taken in violation of state wildlife protection laws.

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