Man charged with smuggling protected turtles stuffed inside socks

A man has been charged with smuggling protected turtles after they were found stuff inside socks in packages that were intercepted in Southern California, prosecutors have said.

Sai Keung Tin, from China, has been charged after 40 eastern box turtles were discovered in four packages at a mail facility in the city of Torrance in June 2023, a US Fish and Wildlife Service special agent wrote in an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint.

The 53-year-old was indicted on four counts of exporting merchandise contrary to US law on Friday, Sky News’ US partner network NBC News reports.

The eastern box turtles, which are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), are said to have been kept in socks to prevent them from making noise.

The turtles grow to around six inches in length, can live more than 100 years and have colourful shell patterns.

They were found in packages which were addressed to Tin’s home, the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement.

One of the turtles was dead but the rest were alive.

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Tin was arrested in New York City on 25 February after he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport, officials said.

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The turtles were found inside socks. Pic: US Fish and Wildlife Service
The turtles were found inside socks. Pic: US Fish and Wildlife Service

The suspect is associated with Kang Juntao, who smuggled at least 1,500 turtles from the US to Hong Kong in 2017 and 2018, according to the affidavit.

The turtles had a total value in the pet trade of around $2.25m (£1.8m).

Middlemen for Kang would send turtles to Tin’s address in Hong Kong, and from there they would be smuggled to mainland China, the affidavit says.

Kang was arrested in Malaysia in 2019 and extradited to America, where in October 2021 he was sentenced to more than three years in prison for money laundering, the US Justice Department has said.

Even though Kang was arrested and prosecuted, packages continued to be sent to Tin and intercepted in Torrance, the US Fish and Wildlife Service special agent wrote in the affidavit.

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