- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) - A coastal Georgia man pleaded guilty Friday to stealing the eggs of protected sea turtles barely two years after he served time in federal prison for the same offense.

Lewis Jackson, 60, faces up to five years in federal prison and potential fines of $250,000 after he pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood. He will be sentenced at a later date.

Prosecutors said Jackson was arrested July 7 after a wildlife technician for the state of Georgia discovered 84 loggerhead sea turtle eggs missing from Sapelo Island, a remote and largely undeveloped barrier island owned by the state. Authorities caught Jackson trying to leave the island with a cooler full of eggs.

Jackson had wrapped the eggs as if he intended to sell them on the black market, where they could fetch an estimated $25 apiece, federal prosecutors said in a news release Friday. Because of the way they were handled, the stolen eggs were no longer viable and had to be destroyed, authorities said.

Federal court records listed Jackson’s defense attorney as James A. Yancey Jr. of Brunswick. He did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday afternoon.

U.S. Attorney Edward Tarver of Georgia’s Southern District said prosecutors will ask the judge to send Jackson back to prison for “a significant amount of the next few years,” considering this was his second offense.

Jackson pleaded guilty to the same crime in January 2013, months after authorities caught him trying to smuggle 156 loggerhead sea turtle eggs onto a ferry leaving Sapelo Island.

Jackson received six months in federal prison for his first offense. Prosecutors said he was still on supervised release at the time of his second arrest.

Loggerhead sea turtles can grow up to a giant 300 pounds, yet they remain a fragile population that’s been protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act for 36 years. Each summer the turtles lay eggs on beaches from Florida to the Carolinas.

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