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Japanese men smuggled 55 live turtles into LAX in snack food boxes, prosecutors allege

January 10, 2011 |  4:22 pm

 Federal officials arrested two Japanese men for allegedly smuggling 55 live turtles into LAX in snack food boxes.

Atsushi Yamagami, 39, and Norihide Ushirozako, 49, were arrested Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after an undercover sting operation, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney's office.

Authorities said they infiltrated the ring over the last few months in an investigation known as "Operation Flying Turtle."

Prosecutors said the charges carry a maximum possible federal prison sentence of 20 years.

"In August 2010, Hiroki Uetsuki, an associate of Yamagami and Ushirozako, traveled from Osaka, Japan, and arrived at Honolulu International Airport," where turtles were discovered in his suitcase, prosecutors said.

"After U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents arrested Uetsuki, he informed the agents that Yamagami paid him approximately 100,000 yen (approximately $1,200) and his travel expenses to smuggle turtles and tortoises into the United States," officials said.


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-- Andrew Blankstein

 Photo credit: U.S. attorney's office