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Authorities Bust Illegal Reptile Ring

June 29, 2003

DETROIT (AP) _ State and federal wildlife officials seized hundreds of rare and endangered turtles and snakes in raids Saturday aimed at breaking up one of the nation’s largest suspected networks of illegal reptile and amphibian sales.

The morning raids in Ohio, Indiana and southern Michigan followed a two-year investigation by the states’ departments of natural resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officials said.

``It’s the first time we’ve actually been able to catch them and hopefully it will send a strong message to curtail that activity,″ said Brad Wurfel, press secretary for the Michigan DNR.

The ring was under observation for more than a decade, and the break came when investigators managed to infiltrate the group by posing as dealers, trappers and customers, officials said.

At least 50 people in the three states are expected to be charged, officials said.

More than 100 snakes, turtles and other animals were seized as 10 homes were searched in Ohio, said Jim Quinlivan, law enforcement supervisor for the Ohio DNR’s Wildlife Division.

About 150 protected turtles and 20 protected snakes were seized in Michigan, along with marijuana, according to an undercover detective with the Michigan DNR, who asked not to be identified. Their market value was estimated at more than $55,000.

Some of the animals were spotted turtles, which are a protected species in Michigan and can sell for as much as $250 each, the detective said. The illegally traded animals also included spotted salamanders, which are amphibians.

Many of the Ohio animals were colorful snakes and turtles native to the Lake Erie shore, while others such as Eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes are found in hilly regions inland.

The number of animals seized in Indiana was not immediately available.

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