- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Men from California and Louisiana are accused in court records of smuggling protected turtles to China.

Raymond Chiu, 72, of Foster City, California, and Eric Cottrell, 44, of Minden, Louisiana, are scheduled for arraignment Tuesday in federal district court in New Orleans, the online court documents show.

Judge Ivan Lemelle set Chiu’s bond at $300,000 and Cottrell’s at $25,000. Both are charged with smuggling, with transporting or acquiring wildlife for illegal uses, and with conspiracy to do so.

Neither responded to emails sent Sunday to addresses identified as theirs in a federal wildlife agent’s sworn statement; a phone number described as Cottrell’s has been disconnected. Attorneys for the two did not respond Sunday to emailed requests for comment.

According to the statement from Scotty Boudreaux, a special agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an informant and Chiu arranged for the sale of 220 turtles, 160 of them members of various protected species.

The other 60 were common snapping turtles, chosen as cover because they’re “a known danger for government inspectors” - very aggressive, with bites that “can even sever a finger,” Boudreaux wrote.

A Chinese correspondent asked to have all of the turtles shipped in white rice sacks “so inspectors would think the entire shipment was snapping turtles, and likely not to be inspected.”

Boudreaux said that after Chiu had confirmed that his customer had received the turtles, he wanted more protected turtles. Eventually, the informant introduced him by email to a Fish and Wildlife Service undercover agent, and Chiu soon asked for more turtles requiring special licenses under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Boudreaux wrote.

When the agent said he did not have any such turtles, according to the statement, Chiu put him in touch with Cottrell as someone with diamondback terrapins from Louisiana for sale.

Boudreaux wrote that the agent told Cottrell he was exporting turtles for Chiu without required permits, and did not mind if Cottrell wanted to back out because of that. “Cottrell did not hesitate,” Boudreaux wrote.

The statement says Cottrell sold 20 to the agent, telling him during a videotaped meeting that friends in Lockport had helped him catch 20 in a shrimp trawl even though they can legally only be caught by hand in Louisiana. He also said the turtles were below the legal minimum size for sale, according to the statement.

Boudreaux did not say what the Chinese customers planned to do with the turtles.

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