Monday, July 4, 2022

N.C. man faces jail time, $25K fine for trafficking 800-plus turtles

An operation to combat the trafficking of turtles and tortoises native to America has left one man facing 18 months in prison, a three year supervision upon release, and a $25,000 fine.

A Wilmington judge sentenced 48-year-old Jesse James Freeman of Franklinville, North Carolina, to a year and a half behind bars for trafficking $1.5 million worth of turtles between 2017 and 2018. Freeman was in violation of the Lacey Act, which prohibits “transporting wildlife in interstate commerce if the wildlife were illegally taken under state laws,” according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting our native species from international trafficking,” assistant AG Todd Kim of the department’s environment and natural resources division said in the release. “Today’s sentence is the latest example that there are severe consequences to those who violate the Lacey Act by exploiting turtles.”

Freeman pleaded guilty in September 2020 to collecting and hiring poachers to smuggle 722 eastern box turtles, 122 spotted turtle and three wood turtles into Asia. The three species are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Freeman received at least $121,000 in payment, the release noted.

Freeman will have to pay a multi-thousand-dollar fine to the Lacey Act Reward Fund. The money helps cover costs to care for fish, wildlife or plants that are being held as evidence in ongoing investigations. 

The judge also banned Freeman from owning wild-caught wildlife and any wildlife without documentation of origin during the supervisory period.

The investigation was conducted by the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement in Raleigh with assistance from the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission.

“We will continue to work closely with our state partners and the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute these important cases,” assistant director Edward Grace of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Office of Law Enforcement said in the release.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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