A once-soaring off (and illegal) flying squirrel traffic ring has been busted in Florida, where poachers allegedly made a little fortune by catching and selling the rodents as pets on the international market.
Seven individuals have been accused in the association of the plan, which is thought to have been worth in any event US$1 million, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported on Monday. They face a consolidated 25 crime allegations regarding the occurrence, with more captures forthcoming.
Charges include racketeering, money laundering, scheming to cheat, and other organized crime charges related with wildlife smuggling.
The poachers trapped upwards of 3,600 flying squirrels in the wild and sold them to foreign buyers from Asia over the span of three years, as according by the FWC.
“These poachers could have severely damaged Florida’s wildlife life populaces,” said Maj. Grant Burton, who leads the FWC’s examination area.
Flying squirrels are secured wild species in Florida, yet the suspects got around that by “washing” their caught wild creatures through a licensed breeder, the FWC says.
The breeder, Rodney Knox, made $213,800 from the trafficking operation and is among the seven facing charges, investigators say. He was charged with money laundering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, racketeering, scheme to defraud, grand theft, and dealing in stolen property.
South Korean buyers would visit the breeder in Bushnell, Fla., to buy a squirrel, the FWC says. The poachers would then deliver the animals to Chicago via rental car, and an unwitting wildlife exporter would be duped into sending the squirrels to their international destinations.
“Documents were falsified concealing the true source of the wildlife,” the FWC said in a statement.
The operation eventually expanded to include couriers running through Atlanta for a pit stop, the FWC says. The suspects were also caught illegally trafficking in protected freshwater turtles and alligators, investigators say.
The arrests come after a sweeping multi-state examination, which began after a concerned resident tipped off the FWC in January 2019.
Four of the accused are from Florida and two are from Georgia. A seventh unnamed suspect remained a fugitive as of Monday morning.
This article is originally posted on globalnews.ca