A Louisa man who caught and sold wild turtles has pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally trafficking the reptiles.
Stanlee Fazi, 41, admitted in federal court in Alexandria that he made nearly $13,000 over three years selling turtles to customers across the U.S. Prosecutors said many were brokers who went on to sell the turtles to customers in Asia, where the animals are in demand as pets.
Authorities have said there is an increasing demand for pet turtles in many areas around the world, and that demand is fueling an increase in turtle poaching.
Fazi sold primarily eastern box turtles, which can live for up to 100 years. In particular demand were “screamer” turtles, which have unusually colorful markings on their shells.
Court documents show that Fazi would post messages on Facebook pages dedicated to reptiles, offering turtles for sale. He would respond dismissively when others told him that what he was doing was illegal.
“I know all about the laws and would be stupid to not research first,” he wrote in one post.
Virginia wildlife protection laws make it illegal to take any turtle species from the wild and sell them, and a federal law makes it a federal crime to violate state wildlife laws.
Fazi’s attorney, Ed Ungvarsky, said his client “only sold to fellow turtle aficionados and didn’t intend for any of the turtles to leave the country.”
Fazi charged customers about $200 for an individual turtle, more for ones with unusual colors, court documents show.
He is set to be sentenced July 26.