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When turtles fly: Reptile smuggler gets prison time for snack-box stunt

Turtle Smuggling

AP Photo/US Attorney's Office

Two men, Atsushi Yamagami and Norihide Ushirozako both of Osaka, Japan, were arrested Jan. 7, 2011, at Los Angeles International Airport for smuggling more than 50 live turtles and tortoises into the United States.

Atsushi Yamagami was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay about $18,000 in fines for his "leadership role" in smuggling 55 live turtles and tortoises into the U.S. in snack food boxes inside of a suitcase. 

The Japan-based ringleader was sentenced Monday in Los Angeles. The 40-year-old from Osaka, Japan, belived to be involved in a years-long illegal import operation, pleaded guilty last year to one felony count of smuggling.

Yamagami has been in custody for the past 15 months. He has six months left of his sentence before he is permitted to return home, said U.S. District Judge George H. King. 

Defense attorney Kiana Sloan-Hillier told the court that federal detention had been unusually hard on the defendant, saying, "He's a very small person and alone," adding that he received very few visitors and did not speak English.