Chris Craig, David Feltenberger, and James Cheung were arrested in connection to violations of laws regulating wildlife sale and transport, according to a press release by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. Feltenberger and Craig are from Okeechobee, Florida, while Cheung is from Moore Haven, Florida. Craig, 36, Cheung, 57, and Feltenberger, 52, allegedly committed the violations in connection with turtle sales from turtle farms. Craig and Chung are purportedly slated to appear in court today on the charges; it is not clear when Feltenberger is due in court. It is similarly unclear whether any of the three defendants has retained a private criminal defense lawyer.
Because the charges are federal, the defendants, who are accused of making illegal sales of freshwater turtles in interstate and foreign commerce, must appear in federal court. If convicted of the charges, they could each face five years in prison. The investigation was apparently a joint endeavor between the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. It is not clear how the investigation was conducted.
According to the press release, the defendants are accused of violating the terms of aquaculture permits issued through the FWCC. The permits, explains the press release, were instated two years ago as a way to boost Florida’s dwindling population of freshwater turtles. Permit owners are allowed to harvest a certain number of turtles from the wild in order to breed them as long as they follow the stipulations of the permit, one of which requires all wild caught turtles to remain on the turtle farms for breeding purposes until the permit expires. The bred turtles were to be sold commercially in order to stop people from continually harvesting wild turtles, which is apparently believed to be responsible for the decline in the number of freshwater turtles in Florida.
The defendants allegedly contributed to the overharvesting problem by failing to use the turtles they harvested for breeding purposes. Cheung, the owner of I & C Fish Ranch in Moore Haven, Florida, was issued a FWCC Turtle Aquaculture Brood Stock Collection Permit that permitted the collection of 500 turtles to be used for breeding purposes between March 2011 and April 2012, according to the press release. Rather than breed the turtles, federal authorities reportedly believe that Cheung sold the turtles to California buyers.
Feltenberger and Craig, on the other hand, were charged in connection to Big Lake Fish Farm II in Okeechobee, Florida. Feltenberger evidently owned the establishment, while Craig was an employee there. Feltenberger, according to the press release, had a FWCC Turtle Aquaculture Brood Stock Collection Permit that allowed him to collect over 15,000 wild turtles to be used in breeding between May 2011 and April 2012. The press release indicates that Feltenberger purchased wild-caught turtles last year but did not use them for breeding purposes. According to the release, Feltenberger and Craig sold and shipped the turtles to China on multiple occasions. It is not clear how many turtles Feltenberger allegedly purchased and sold.