United States Fish and Wildlife Service agents took Ashtyn Michael Rance, 35, into custody on March 30 after a grand jury in the Middle District of Georgia indicted him for reportedly selling the reptiles in violation of the Lacey Act, a federal law regulating the trafficking of fish, wildlife, and plants.
The indictment claims that Rance sold 16 spotted turtles and three eastern box turtles to a buyer in Florida, shipping the reptiles from Valdosta, Georgia, in February 2018 in a package falsely labeled as containing tropical fish and lizards. It also alleges that Rance sent a second package in May 2018 to Florida with a label stating it contained harmless reptiles and ball pythons, but Rance actually shipped 15 venomous Gaboon vipers.
Rance also faces charges for illegally possessing a Bushmaster Carbine .223-caliber rifle and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. On May 11, 2018, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Rance’s Valdosta home, recovering the two firearms. Rance has one previous felony conviction, making his possession of a firearm a violation of federal law.
“Illegal wildlife trafficking can have devastating effects, and our office will prosecute individuals found in violation of the Lacey Act and other environmental protection laws,” acting U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia said in a statement. “I want to thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ATF and Georgia DNR for their work investigating this case.”
“Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that impacts species at home and abroad,” Special Agent in Charge Stephen Clark for the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement added.
The spotted turtle is a semiaquatic turtle native to the eastern U.S. and the Great Lakes region. The eastern box turtle is native to forested regions of the East Coast and Midwest, and the Gaboon viper is native to central sub-Saharan Africa. Its venom can cause shock, loss of consciousness, and even death.
The maximum prison sentence under the Lacey Act is five years, and the maximum sentence for the firearms charges is 10 years. Rance could also be ordered to pay a maximum $250,000 fine for each charge if convicted.