Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced this week that an investigation into an international ring of endangered and protected species sales has resulted in the arrests of three Nassau County men who have been charged with illegal black market sales of various species of legally protected turtles indigenous to Long Island.
The two-year investigation, dubbed "Operation Shellshock," has also led to an additional 14 arrests in four other New York counties and in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Louisiana, and Ontario, Canada. The different species of turtles were targeted by collectors due to their rarity. In some cases not connected to Long Island, the investigation uncovered the interstate and international shipment of endangered and protected species to foreign countries like China, where turtle meat is eaten as a delicacy.
Edward Otero, 45, of Syosset, has been charged with Illegal Commercialization of Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans and Wildlife, a Class E felony punishable by up to four years in prison and maximum fine of $5,000. Rice said that on April 2, 2008, Otero sold undercover investigators 10 breeding spotted turtles in a Uniondale parking lot for $2,600. The sale and purchase of the protected spotted turtle is prohibited under the environmental laws of New York.
Harry W. Faustmann, 65, of North Bellmore, and Jeffrey E. Bollbach, 54, of Freeport, have both been charged with Illegal Commercialization of Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans and Wildlife, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a mandatory fine of $5,000. Rice said that in May 2008, investigators met with Faustmann at an upstate wildlife convention and traded two spotted turtles for two of Faustmann's Eastern Box turtles. In addition, Faustmann gave the investigator a $300 check from Bollbach for the purchase of two adult North American wood turtles.
Search warrants executed at both defendants' homes in December 2008 resulted in the seizure of 32 protected turtles.
There are three classifications of protected species under Environmental Conservation Law and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines. "Endangered" species are in imminent danger of extinction, a "threatened" species is deemed likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, and a "species of special concern" is at risk of becoming endangered or threatened in New York. Under these guidelines, the turtles involved in this investigation are classified as "species of special concern."
"Removing these species from their natural environment only pushes them closer to extinction," Rice said. "Treating these creatures like collectibles threatens their safety, hinders their ability to reproduce, and harms a delicate ecosystem."
Handling the case for the District Attorney's Office is Assistant District Attorney Robert Owens, chief of the DA's Environmental Crimes Unit.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.