A Marathon man who was caught with a mutilated, endangered turtle last spring, along with possessing undersized stone crab claws and lobster out of season, is set to have his day in court this month.
Serguei Perez-Perdomo, 38, was arrested May 8, 2014. after he was reportedly found with 212 out-of-season lobster, 12 stone crab claws and a butchered sea turtle inside of a cooler, according to the Sheriff's Office. Two of the stone crab claws and 145 of the lobster were undersized.
He was arrested after Monroe County Sheriff's Office Deputy Wilfredo Guerra received a call about someone putting a cooler in mangroves at the Ohio-Missouri Bridge. Guerra checked the cooler's contents -- it included "a turtle that had been butchered for its meat" -- then staked it out.
He saw a man, later ID'd as the suspect, drive up in a Toyota, put the cooler in the car and head north. He radioed ahead to a colleague, who pulled Perez-Perdomo over in Marathon.
Perez-Perdomo faces three misdemeanor counts of violating saltwater fishing regulations and one felony count of destroying, selling or molesting sea turtles.
The Monroe County court system website lists Monday for a pretrial hearing for Perez-Perdomo in front of Acting Circuit Court Judge Ruth Becker. His trial, should it get to that, is scheduled for Dec. 14. Turtle Hospital Manager Bette Zirkelbach said court workers told her his hearing has been postponed.
"This is the fourth case in two and a half years. There's more going on than what we're seeing," Zirkelbach said. "That's more cases than we've seen in the 10 years before this."
She attributes the rise in turtle cases to more South Florida residents and visitors coming to the Keys from Caribbean islands, some of which don't protect the turtles as much as the U.S. does.
Under state law, if convicted, Perez-Perdomo could be fined $500 and jailed for up to 60 days. Under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, he also could pay a penalty up to $25,000 or a criminal penalty up to $100,000, and spend up to one year in jail.
Turtle Hospital owner Richie Moretti said he's offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who offers information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case of an endangered sea turtle being injured or killed.
Moretti is also looking to expand sea-turtle education into schools on the mainland, particularly Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He's focusing on those areas since many families from there frequent the Keys for vacation.
The classes would involve sea-turtle surgeries and education via Skype, a video-transmission program.
"Everything comes up through the children,” Moretti said. "We go to schools in Monroe County at least once a year. That's why I don't think we have such a problem with locals and sea turtles here. The kids have grown up to be fishermen, lobstermen and so on. They know they can bring sea turtles they catch to us."
Those who have information about illegally taken sea turtles can call (305) 393-1688.