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Authorities find exotic turtles and tortoises packed in snack boxes in accused smugglers' luggage at LAX

January 11, 2011 |  8:59 pm

TurtleSmugglers

We can think of a lot of things to do with empty cookie and cracker boxes. Like recycling them, for instance. Or possibly using them in some sort of craft project.

But federal authorities arrested two men from Osaka, Japan, on Friday for doing something quite different with empty boxes. The men are accused of hiding 55 live turtles and tortoises, each from a rare species, in the boxes and attempting to smuggle them into the U.S. The men were apprehended Friday at Los Angeles International Airport. Los Angeles Times reporter Andrew Blankstein reported Tuesday:

On Monday, Atsushi Yamagami, 39, and Norihide Ushirozako, 49, were charged in a two-count criminal complaint alleging that they illegally imported wildlife into the United States, a smuggling offense that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, and one count of violating the Endangered Species Act, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison.

Authorities said the arrests of Yamagami and Ushirozako, as well as that of one of their associates at Honolulu International Airport last summer, is the result of a yearlong investigation that involved the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"Individuals who engage in the smuggling of protected species are unscrupulous law violators who are motivated solely by profit and status, and clearly have no respect for our ecosystem," Erin L. Dean, resident agent in charge of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement, told MyFoxLA.

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-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Turtles and tortoises hidden in cracker and cookie boxes were seized at LAX. Credit: U.S. attorney's office 

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