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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Reptile Dealer Convicted and Sentenced for Illegally Selling Turtles

by Walt D. Osborne, M.S., J.D., Assistant Editor
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter May / June 2008 Volume XXIII, No III

After entering a guilty plea in a Federal district court on July 14, 2008, a reptile firm was convicted of violating a public health law that prohibits the sale of turtles with shells less than 4 in. long.

Strictly Reptile, Inc., Hollywood, FL, forfeited approximately 7,000 turtles and tortoises seized by government agents on May 2, 2008, in the course of executing a Federal search warrant. The company was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $5,000 and was placed on 2 years’ probation. The court also ordered the company to implement a business practice requiring it to secure a signed notice document from every buyer of undersized turtles that they are aware of the legal restrictions placed on the sale or holding for sale of these reptiles, and to file semi-annual reports to the court during the 2-year probation period, as well as to the Food and Drug Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Strictly Reptile, Inc., sold approximately 1,000 undersized turtles in March 2008 from its Hollywood location to a tourist souvenir business in Panama City, FL. The principal of the firm had admitted to investigators that he intentionally did not ask customers the purpose of their purchases so as not to lose sales.

The limitation on turtle sales was put into effect in 1975, pursuant to the Public Health Service Act, because of the public health impact of turtle-associated salmonellosis. FDA enforces the regulation in cooperation with State and local health jurisdictions. Exceptions to the regulation are made for sales of turtles less than 4 in. long for bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes, other than the use as pets.

Public health investigators had identified undersized turtles as a major source of Salmonella and other infections, especially in small children who are prone to handling turtles without washing their hands afterwards, and to putting the turtles in their mouths.