2 plead not guilty in California turtle smuggling case

Two Japanese men have pleaded not guilty to charges that they smuggled more than 50 live turtles and tortoises into the U.S. by hiding them in snack food boxes in a suitcase.

Federal prosecutors say Atsushi Yamagami and Norihide Ushirozako entered their pleas Monday on counts of animal smuggling, conspiracy and wildlife trafficking. If convicted each could get 26 years in prison. The men are being held without bail until trial March 8.

The Osaka residents were arrested this month at Los Angeles International Airport as part of an undercover investigation called Operation Flying Turtle.

Agents purchased protected turtles from someone allegedly linked to the defendants. Later they arrested a man at Honolulu International Airport with 42 animals hidden in his checked bags.

© 2011 The Associated Press.

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