Man found illegally dealing reptiles in Valdosta charged by federal grand jury
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) - Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office Middle District of Georgia says a reptile dealer with a residence in Valdosta appeared in federal court for his initial appearance on Lacey Act and firearms charges.
35-year-old Ashtyn Michael Rance of Dalzell, South Carolina, was charged by a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Georgia on March 9 for trafficking vipers and turtles, as well as illegally possessing two firearms.
The federal Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest wildlife trafficking statute and prohibits, among other things, transporting wildlife in interstate commerce if the wildlife was illegal under state laws. The indictment against Rance alleges that he possessed and sold the reptiles in violation of Georgia laws. It also is a Lacey Act violation to falsely label a package containing wildlife.
According to USAO MDGA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents arrested Rance on March 30 on a warrant to face the charges in the Middle District of Georgia.
The maximum sentence under the Lacey Act and firearms charges are five and 10 years of imprisonment, respectively, and a $250,000 fine for each charge.
The indictment alleges that in February 2018, Rance sold 16 spotted turtles and three eastern box turtles to a buyer in Florida and shipped the reptiles from Valdosta in a package falsely labeled as containing tropical fish and lizards.
The indictment also alleges that in May 2018, Rance sent a second package to Florida with a label stating that it contained harmless reptiles and ball pythons when in reality, Rance had shipped 15 Gaboon vipers, which are venomous snakes.
The indictment lastly alleges that on May 11, 2018, law enforcement authorities executed a search warrant at Rance’s Valdosta home, where they recovered a Bushmaster Carbine .223 caliber rifle and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. Rance has a prior felony conviction, so possessing these firearms was illegal.
The case is being investigated by USFWS Office of Law Enforcement in Vero Beach, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources as part of Operation Middleman. The operation focuses on the trafficking of reptiles from the United States to China.
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