Turtle hiding in his shell, Medan, Indonesia

Miami, FL (WFOR) -- Two suspects are facing serious charges after wildlife officials say they were poaching thousands of Florida’s native turtles from the wild and selling them illegally.

Authorities say the final destination of the turtles were international markets and add that this was the largest seizure of turtles in recent history.

“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle species and our ecosystems. We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal wildlife trafficking,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Eric Sutton.

“Putting a stop to this criminal enterprise is a significant win for conservation,” said Col. Curtis Brown, head of FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “Arresting people engaged in illegal wildlife trafficking supports our environment and legal businesses. It is especially positive and rewarding to be able to release many of the turtles back into the wild.”

“We know that the global black market in live animals includes traffickers smuggling protected species of turtles out of the United States, usually for export to the Asian pet market,” said Dr. Craig Stanford, Chairman of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. “This sinister and illegal trade threatens the future of many species of North American animals, and as one of the most threatened animal groups on the planet, turtles are at the forefront of our concern.”

The FWC says it launched an undercover investigation after receiving a tip in February 2018.

Here is what the FWC says led to the arrests:

“Investigators determined that a ring of well-organized wildlife traffickers was illegally catching and selling wild turtles to large-scale reptile dealers and illegal distributors, who shipped most of them overseas on the black market. Michael Boesenberg (DOB 02/05/1980) of Fort Myers, directed individuals to illegally collect turtles in large numbers; once he had enough turtles on hand he would then sell to a buyer with links to Asian markets.”

Over 600 turtles were returned to the wild, two dozen were quarantined and released at a later date, and a handful were retained by a captive wildlife licensee since they were not native to the area, the FWC said.

“SCCF has been conducting research on these turtles for nearly two decades. Thanks to FWC for uncovering this illicit activity that has adversely affected wild turtle populations,” said Chris Lechowicz, Wildlife & Habitat Management Program Director at SCCF.

The FWC reminds everyone that selling wild-caught freshwater turtles is illegal and harvesting them from the wild is specifically regulated.

If you suspect smuggling of wildlife, you can report it by calling the Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

The FWC released the names of the suspects and the charges they are facing: Michael Boesenberg (DOB 02/05/1980 of Fort Myers, FL): • F.S.S. 812.019(2) – Dealing in stolen property as an organizer • F.A.C. 68A-25.002 (6)(a)1 – 3 counts – Taking over the bag limit of turtles • F.A.C. 68A-25.002 (6)(a) – Over the possession limit of box turtles • F.A.C. 68A-25.002 (6)(c) – Sale and offer for sale turtle taken from the wild • The enabling statute for these violations of F.A.C 68A-6 is F.S. 379.4015(2)(a)1. • FAC 68A-6.004(4)(q)1(c) – 9 counts – Standard Caging Requirements for Captive Wildlife • F.S.S 379.2431 – Possession of marine turtle parts • F.A.C 68A-4.004(5) – Possession of black bear parts • F.S.S. 893.13(6)(a) –Possess cannabis over 20 grams • F.S.S. 893.13(1)(a)(2) –Possess with intent to sell/deliver • F.S.S. 893.13(6)(a) –Possess controlled substance (THC oil) Michael Clemons (DOB 09/05/1996 Fort Myers, FL): • F.S.S. 812.019(1) –Dealing in stolen property • F.A.C. 68A-25.002 (6)(a)1 –2 counts –Taking over the bag limit of turtles • F.A.C. 68A-25.002 (6)(a) – Over the possession limit of box turtles • F.A.C. 68A-25.002 (6)(c) – Sale and offer for sale turtle taken from the wild • F.A.C. 68A-25.002(6)(b) – Transporting wild caught turtles without a permit

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