LOS ANGELES: A Japanese citizen who federal authorities describe as "a major wildlife trafficker" was sentenced today to nearly two years in prison for smuggling 55 reptiles into the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office.
The majority of the turtles and tortoises were species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty, say federal officials.
The live reptiles that were inside snack food boxes stuffed in suitcases when they were found at Los Angeles International Airport in January 2011, according to federal officials.
Federal prosecutors argued in court that the method used to smuggle the reptiles from Japan constituted animal cruelty, and the animals posed the risk of transmitting Salmonella.
The judge ordered Atsushi Yamagami, 39, to pay $18,403 as restitution to the Lacy Act Reward Account, which is used to finance investigations conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, say officials.
During the investigation, authorities found out that Yamagami was a leader of an organized group of Japanese nationals who were responsible for smuggling protected turtles, tortoises, chameleons and lizards into and out of the United States through Honolulu and Los Angeles airports.
Yamagami sold or traded the animals at reptile pet shows across the United States and used proceeds from the purchases to buy snakes, turtles and tortoises native to North America.