Stanlee Fazi, 41, of Louisa, Virginia, has pleaded guilty in federal court in Alexandria to trafficking turtles in violation of the Lacey Act. Sentencing is scheduled for July 26.
Fazi admitted that between July 31, 2017, and June 29, 2020, he illegally collected eastern box turtles from the wild and sold them on at least 27 occasions to buyers in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin. Fazi received approximately $12,700 using Facebook Marketplace for these sales. Many of Fazi’s purchasers, in turn, smuggled the turtles from the United States to Hong Kong and China for the illegal pet trade. Fazi acknowledged binding the turtles in socks and shipping them by FedEx from Fredericksburg.
The federal Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest wildlife trafficking statute and prohibits, among other things, transporting or selling wildlife in interstate commerce if the wildlife were illegally taken or possessed under state laws. The Commonwealth of Virginia also prohibits taking turtles from the wild or selling them. The maximum sentence under the Lacey Act is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is a subspecies of the common box turtle (Terrapene carolina). The eastern box turtle is native to forested regions of the eastern United States, including Virginia, with some isolated populations in the Midwest. The turtles typically reach a length of up to six inches and can live more than 100 years. The turtles have a domed carapace, which can display radiated lines or spots. Turtles with colorful markings are particularly prized in the domestic and foreign pet trade market.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Offices of Law Enforcement in Baltimore and Vero Beach, Florida, conducted the investigation as part of Operation Middleman. The operation focused on the trafficking of reptiles from the United States to China.
The government is represented by Senior Trial Attorney Ryan Connors of the Environment and Natural Resource Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg for the Eastern District of Virginia.