Connect with us

Headlines

7 Charged in Scheme to Trap Flying Squirrels, Traffic Them to South Korea

The animals are sold internationally in the pet trade.

mm

Published

on

Florida wildlife officials say an “elaborate organized enterprise” was trapping flying squirrels in the state and smuggling them overseas.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced that there are seven suspects and that 25 felony charges have been filed “with additional arrests forthcoming.” Charges include racketeering, money laundering, and scheming to defraud.

Even the Scroogiest of Pet Parents Can’t Resist These Holiday Displays
Photo Gallery

Even the Scroogiest of Pet Parents Can’t Resist These Holiday Displays

Holiday Pet Photos: Pics with Santa, Selfie Stations and More
Photo Gallery

Holiday Pet Photos: Pics with Santa, Selfie Stations and More

Get Inspired by These Chew Displays at Indie Pet Stores
Photo Gallery

Get Inspired by These Chew Displays at Indie Pet Stores

In January 2019, the FWC received a complaint from a concerned citizen about individuals illegally trapping flying squirrels in a rural area of Marion County, according to a press release from the agency. Flying squirrels, a protected wild animal in Florida, are sold internationally in the pet trade.

“Over the next 19 months, FWC Investigators pieced together an elaborate scheme in which flying squirrels were illegally captured by poachers in multiple counties throughout central Florida,” according to the release. “The flying squirrels were then sold to a wildlife dealer in Bushnell and were laundered through the licensed business of this dealer, who claimed they were captive bred.”

Authorities allege that poachers deployed as many as 10,000 squirrel traps throughout central Florida and that as many as 3,600 flying squirrels were captured in less than three years. In three years, the wildlife dealer allegedly received as much as $213,800 in gross illegal proceeds. The FWC estimates the international retail value of the poached wildlife will exceed $1 million.

Advertisement

Investigators learned buyers from South Korea would travel to the U.S. and purchase the flying squirrels from the wildlife dealer in Bushnell, according to the release. The New York Times reports that in part of Asia, flying squirrels and certain other “cute” animals are “are popular and are featured in cafes where patrons can sip coffee and play with the creatures.”

The animals were allegedly driven in rental cars to Chicago, where their source was further concealed, and were exported to Asia by an unwitting international wildlife exporter. As the operation expanded, couriers from the state of Georgia would take over the transports, authorities say. One Georgia courier would fly to Orlando, rent a vehicle and drive the animals to Atlanta, according to the release. A second hired courier would then drive the animals to Chicago. Each of the new participants would not know the identity of the other suspects.

As FWC Investigators monitored the operation, they learned the Florida suspects were dealing in multiple species of poached animals, according to the release. Authorities say protected freshwater turtles and alligators were illegally taken and laundered through other seemingly legitimate licensed businesses. Documents were allegedly falsified concealing the true source of the wildlife.

“A State and Federal Task Force was created and was instrumental in accomplishing this operation,” said Maj. Grant Burton, FWC Investigation’s section leader.

“Wildlife conservation laws protect Florida’s precious natural resources from abuse. The concerned citizen who initially reported this activity started an investigation that uncovered a major smuggling operation. These poachers could have severely damaged Florida’s wildlife populations.”

The Illinois Conservation Police, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Homeland Security Investigations worked closely together to collect evidence of the international smuggling operation. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was also instrumental in intercepting wildlife shipments to California. The FWC Investigators detected illegally taken freshwater turtles were shipped from Tampa International Airport to Los Angeles. California agents were notified and intercepted the wildlife shipments.

Advertisement

Suspects and their charges:

Rodney Crendell Knox, Bushnell, FL

  • Racketeering
  • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
  • Money Laundering
  • Scheme to Defraud
  • Grand Theft
  • Dealing in Stolen Property

Kenneth Lee Roebuck, Lake Panasoffkee, FL

  • Racketeering
  • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
  • Scheme to Defraud
  • Grand Theft
  • Dealing in Stolen Property

Donald Lee Harrod Jr., Bushnell, FL

  • Racketeering
  • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
  • Scheme to Defraud
  • Grand Theft
  • Dealing in Stolen Property

Vester Ray Taylor Jr., Webster, FL

  • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
  • Dealing in Stolen Property 

Jong Yun Baek, Marietta, GA

Advertisement
  • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering

Ervin Woodyard Jr., Greenville, GA

  • Unlawful Possession of Wildlife (Georgia DNR)
  • Violation of Probation (Trafficking a Person for Sexual Servitude – Georgia)

Unnamed Fugitive

  • Racketeering
  • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
  • Scheme to Defraud
  • Grand Theft
  • Dealing in Stolen Property

Most Popular