Man involved in smuggling live turtles to be sentenced today

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An officer from Singapore's Immigration and Custom Authority (ICA) holds one of many star tortoise which were found in the hand luggage of an Indian national at Singapore's Changi Airport, 15 September 2003.

A Japanese national is scheduled to be sentenced today for his part in smuggling a shipment of live turtles and tortoises into the United States, 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 approximately 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 on one felony count of smuggling on Oct. 31.

Like Yamagami, Ushirozako is a Japanese citizen believed to live in Osaka, Japan. In August 2010, Hiroki Uetsuki, an associate of Yamagami, traveled from Osaka and arrived at Honolulu International Airport. Customs officers then discovered approximately 42 turtles and tortoises hidden in his checked luggage, officials said.

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