Travis Leger of Sulphur,and his half-brother Jason Leckelt of Wilburton, Oklahoma, were sentenced today in federal court in Beaumont, Texas, to 21 months and 16 months in prison, respectively, followed by three years of supervised release for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act by illegally trafficking alligator snapping turtles.
The third defendant in the case, Rickey Simon of Sulphur, was sentenced to three years of probation. U.S. District Court Judge Marcia A. Crone ordered the sentences.
In July of 2016, Federal agents seized about 30 large turtles from ponds located at Leger’s property in Sulphur, Louisiana, pursuant to a federal search warrant. As part of his guilty plea, Leger agreed to forfeit all of the seized turtles and will permit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to return to his property, drain the ponds, and seize any turtles remaining in the ponds.
All of the turtles seized by the government in this case will be cared for at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Natchitoches Fish Hatchery in Louisiana and used as part of a breeding program to restock the species in its native waterways in the southwestern United States.
Alligator snapping turtles are among the largest freshwater turtles in the world and can grow to weigh more than 200 pounds with a lifespan of more than 100 years. The turtles are designated as threatened with statewide extinction under Texas State Law, which strictly prohibits anyone from taking, capturing, transporting, or selling these turtles, or attempting to do so. The turtles are also protected under Louisiana State Law, which makes it illegal to sell or barter for the turtles. The Lacey Act makes it a crime to engage in the interstate trafficking of wildlife taken in violation of state wildlife protection laws.
On August 22, 2017, Leger, Leckelt, and Simon all pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge. As part of his guilty plea, Travis Leger admitted to selling a live, illegally taken 171-pound turtle, for $1,000 and another live, illegally taken 168-pound turtle, for $500 in May and June of 2016. The turtles were later seized by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agents from the buyer. Simon admitted that he sold an illegally-trafficked, 120-pound turtle to an undercover Special Agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 19, 2016.
In April of 2017, Leger, Leckelt, and Simon were all charged in a six-count Indictment. The conspiracy charged all the defendants with illegally taking more than 60 large turtles during multiple fishing trips they took to Texas in the spring and summer of 2016, and then transporting the turtles back to a property in Sulphur, Louisiana, for sale. Leger admitted that the market value of all the turtles that he caught illegally in Texas and then sold in Louisiana during the course of the conspiracy was between $40,000 and $95,000. The market value of the turtles that were illegally trafficked by Leckelt was between $15,000 and $40,000.