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article imageCanadian gets five years in U.S. prison in turtle smuggling case

By Megan Hamilton     Apr 14, 2016 in Crime
Detroit - A Canadian man who made numerous trips to Michigan to buy and ship thousands of turtles to his native China will spend nearly five years in a U.S. federal prison for smuggling.
The sentence was handed down on Tuesday.
It was a stiff sentence for Kai Xu, 27, who's been in prison for 19 months since he was arrested. Expressing remorse to a judge, he thanked agents "for stopping the darkness of my greed and ignorance," The Globe and Mail reports.
Prior to the hearing, Xu wrote a letter to the judge presiding over the case and said he sold turtles, in part, to make money for college. He said he is one semester short of an engineering degree from the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada.
Xu had been smuggling the reptiles to China from Canada and the U.S., sometimes by himself and other times with the help of others he paid off, Vice reports. Authorities believe that Xu may have smuggled at least $1 million worth of the turtles, based on packages of turtles that were intercepted in the past.
He apparently admitted smuggling or trying to smuggle more than 1,600 species of turtles from the U.S. to Canada for a period of almost six months in 2014, Inside Edition reports.
Authorities first caught on to him in August 2014, when he crossed the border from Canada into Detroit. Agents watched as he picked up a package at a parcel center, and then headed back to Canada. Once there, he was stopped by Canadian Border Services.
Then Canadian officials found 51 live turtles inside Xu's sweatpants — 41 of the creatures were taped to his legs, with 10 more hidden between his legs.
According to court documents, Xu was accompanied by another Chinese-Canadian man, who was arrested as he attempted to fly to Shanghai with 200 turtles inside his luggage.
And while it isn't illegal to buy turtles from U.S. breeders, the Associated Press reported that shipping overseas without a federal permit is illegal, according to Inside Edition.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said that while she knows the young man's regrets for his actions is real, she pushed for five years because the smuggling operation was so large. U.S. Judge John Corbett O'Meara made note of Xu's good behavior during the 19 months he's been held in prison, and expressed some sympathy, but agreed to Woodward's sentence.
"We don't have a whole lot of cases exactly like this every day," the justice noted.
The turtles that were smuggled included such North American varieties as eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders, and diamondback terrapins, and some sell for up to $800 each, TreeHugger reports.
In China, the turtles are fashionable pets, but they also sometimes wind up on the dinner table.
Xu and his attorney plan to file an appeal, and while this case may seem kind of silly, the illegal wildlife trade is taking a tragic toll, with thousands of wildlife species being threatened by the illegal and unsustainable trade. It decimates animal and plant populations and pushes endangered species closer to extinction.
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