Japanese National Sentenced in Turtle Smuggling Case

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

A Japanese national was sentenced Tuesday to time served — about seven months — for his part in smuggling a shipment of live turtles and tortoises into the U.S., hidden in snack food boxes.

Norihide Ushirozako, 49, pleaded guilty to a smuggling charge on May 23 for carrying the 55 federally protected reptiles discovered at Los Angeles International Airport in January.

The case arose from an undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In July 2010, agents infiltrated the smuggling ring and purchased about 10 protected turtles and tortoises from a person linked to Atsushi Yamagami, according to prosecutors.

Yamagami, 39, pleaded guilty Monday in the scheme and faces a potential penalty of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 31 on one felony count of smuggling.

Like Yamagami, Ushirozako is a Japanese citizen believed to live in Osaka. Both men have been held without bond since their arrests nearly seven months ago.

In August 2010, Hiroki Uetsuki, an associate of Yamagami, traveled from Osaka and arrived at Honolulu International Airport. Customs officers then discovered about 42 turtles and tortoises hidden in his checked luggage.

After agents arrested Uetsuki, he told them that Yamagami paid him about 100,000 yen ($1,200) and his travel expenses to smuggle reptiles into the U.S.

He pleaded guilty in federal court in Hawaii to a smuggling charge.

The turtles and tortoises purchased in the undercover operation were all species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty that covers species being threatened by international trade.

Species protected under CITES can be legally traded only if the exporting country issues a permit.

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