PA man made $500K smuggling NJ turtles, now he could go to prison
A Pennsylvania man has pleaded guilty in federal court to smuggling protected turtles from the Jersey Shore.
David Sommers, a Levittown resident and former reporter for The Trentonian, pleaded guilty on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to trafficking protected turtles.
Prosecutors said that from August 2014 to October 2017, he poached thousands of diamondback terrapins and their eggs from coastal marshes in New Jersey and then sold them in violation of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest wildlife trafficking statute and prohibits falsely labeling packages containing wildlife, fish, or plants.
The Press of Atlantic City reported that Sommers' profits over that three-year span was more than $530,000, according to court documents.
U.S. officials seized over 3,400 diamondback terrapin hatchlings from Sommers’ house in October 2017 and were able to return the hatchlings to their New Jersey habitat.
Sommers' indictment in July 2018 said that Sommers smuggled turtles to Canada in 2014 and falsely labeled the package by claiming it contained a book.
According to a plea agreement, Sommers admitted to sending that mislabeled package containing 11 terrapin hatchlings. The government agreed to dismiss the remaining charges at sentencing, which is scheduled for May 15.
Sommers faces a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution to New Jersey for the value of the turtles.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the investigation with assistance from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
The diamondback terrapin is the only species of turtle that lives in the brackish waters of New Jersey’s coastal marshes and estuaries.
The turtles are protected under state law and by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, recognizing the terrapin as threatened.
New Jersey banned collecting, possessing and transporting diamondback terrapins in 2016.