EUGENE, Ore, (KTVZ) -- A Chinese national pleaded guilty Tuesday in Eugene federal court to directing a scheme in which hundreds of endangered and vulnerable turtles were purchased in the U.S. and smuggled by mail and commercial airline flights to China.
Xiao Dong Qin, 34, a resident of Shanghai, China, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to smuggle goods from the U.S, federal prosecutors said
According to court documents, since at least May 2017 and continuing until June 2018, Qin directed an unindicted co-conspirator in Eugene to purchase more than 300 live turtles from reptile dealers in Alabama, California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina.
All of the turtles purchased and smuggled by Qin are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
A two-year investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed that in a 13-month period, Qin facilitated the purchase and transportation of approximately 136 Florida box turtles, 76 eastern box turtles, 57 North American wood turtles, 20 spotted turtles, 18 diamondback terrapins, seven yellow-blotched map turtles, and one Blanding’s turtle.
USFWS investigators determined the market value of the turtles involved in this investigation exceeded $250,000 in the Chinese pet trade.
In February, Qin was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport by USFWS agents when he arrived from Shanghai.
Qin faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 27, 2020 before U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane.
As part of the plea agreement, Qin has agreed to pay nearly $8,000 in restitution to rehabilitation facilities near Chicago and San Antonio; and The Turtle Conservancy near Los Angeles for costs associated with the care of turtles intercepted by law enforcement.
This case was investigated by USFWS with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. It is being prosecuted by Pamela Paaso, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.