An Okeechobee man has been sentenced to prison by a Miami federal judge for conspiracy to export turtles to China.
David Feltenberger, 51, owned the Big Lake Fish Farm II “turtle aquaculture facility,” where he had a permit that allowed him to collect more than 15,000 wild turtles of different species to use for breeding, according to federal prosecutors.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began issuing such permits two years ago to combat the illegal turtle trade that was decimating wild freshwater turtle populations. Licensed turtle farms are allowed to breed the reptiles for commercial sale, but they are not permitted to sell the wild turtles — only their offspring.
Feltenberger’s turtle trade was busted when an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer brought wild freshwater turtles to the Florida farm. Instead of keeping them on site for breeding purposes, Feltenberger sold them to buyers in California who were arranging to ship them to China, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Because the charges involved interstate and foreign commerce, Feltenberger was tried in federal court. He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced Tuesday to 90 days in prison followed by 90 days of house arrest, three years of probation, 250 hours of community service and fined $20,000. He had faced a maximum prison sentence of five years.