PENDER COUNTY – In one of the first Venus Flytrap cases to be charged as a felony in the state, a Brunswick County man was convicted Tuesday of stealing more than 900 flytraps from a game land in Pender County.
Paul Simmons Jr., 23, was found guilty by a Pender County jury of felony taking of Venus Flytraps, according to Ben David, district attorney for the state’s 5th prosecutorial district, which includes New Hanover and Pender counties.
The case was the first in North Carolina to be charged under new state legislation that elevated the penalty of flytrap poaching from a misdemeanor to a felony as of Dec. 1, 2014.
An officer with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission stopped Simmons as he was driving near the Holly Shelter Game Land in Hampstead on Jan. 3, 2015 and found 970 Venus Flytraps inside the vehicle, David said.
Simmons was charged with the theft along with three other co-defendants who were inside the vehicle, including Malcolm Massey, Jimmy Wortham and Paul Simmons Sr., David said.
Paul Simmons Sr., 51, pleaded guilty to the charge in March 2015 and was sentenced to 24 months of supervised probation, according to the N.C. Department of Corrections. Massey, 31, pleaded guilty in July 2015 and was also sentenced to 24 months of probation.
David said charges against 25-year-old Jimmy Wortham are still pending in Pender County court. His next court date is Aug. 12, 2016.
Venus Flytraps are rare plants found in Brunswick, New Hanover, Onslow and Pender counties. At the time Simmons was charged, the North Carolina Nature Conservancy estimated that just 35,000 plants remained in the wild, David said.
The 970 Venus Flytrap plants stolen from the Holly Shelter Game Land were returned and were able to be replanted.
The investigation was conducted by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the Pender County Sheriffs’ Office. Assistant District Attorney Erika Jones prosecuted the case for the state. Attorney Renee Bloodworth represented the defendant in the case.
Superior Court Judge W. Allen Cobb Jr. sentenced Paul Simmons Jr. to 6-17 months in the N.C. Department of Corrections.