Atlanta, Georgia - A South Carolina man was arrested on March 30 on Lacey Act and firearms charges. A federal judge in the Middle District of Georgia, unsealed the indictment Thursday.
Ashtyn Michael Rance, 35, of Dalzell, was charged by a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Georgia on March 9 for trafficking vipers and turtles, as well as illegally possessing two firearms. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) agents arrested Rance in Dalzell on a warrant to face the charges in the Middle District of Georgia.
The indictment alleges that in February 2018, Rance sold 16 spotted turtles and three eastern box turtles to a buyer in Florida. He shipped the reptiles from Valdosta in a package falsely labeled as containing tropical fish and lizards. The indictment also alleges that in May 2018, Rance sent a second package to Florida with a label stating that it contained harmless reptiles and ball pythons. In reality, Rance had shipped 15 Gaboon vipers, which are venomous snakes. Finally, the indictment alleges that on May 11, 2018, law enforcement authorities executed a search warrant at Rance’s Valdosta home, where they recovered a Bushmaster Carbine .223 caliber rifle and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. It is a violation of federal law for a convicted felon to possess a firearm, and Rance has a prior felony conviction.
“Rance’s reckless shipment of venomous snakes and illegal possession of firearms demonstrate the dangers of wildlife trafficking,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “I applaud our federal and state law enforcement partners for keeping the public and delivery couriers safe.”
“Illegal wildlife trafficking can have devastating effects, and our office will prosecute individuals found in violation of the Lacey Act and other environmental protection laws,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia. “I want to thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ATF and Georgia DNR for their work investigating this case.”
“Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that impacts species at home and abroad,”said Special Agent in Charge Stephen Clark for the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement. “I would like to thank the Justice Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Natural Resources for their assistance with this case. Together, we have stopped highly venomous snakes, and our nation’s own wildlife, from being smuggled.”
Rance possessed and sold the reptiles in violation of Georgia laws. The federal Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest wildlife trafficking statute and prohibits, among other things, transporting wildlife in interstate commerce if the wildlife was possessed illegally under state laws. It also is a Lacey Act violation to falsely label a package containing wildlife.
The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a semi-aquatic turtle native to the eastern United States and Great Lakes region. The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is endemic to forested regions of the East Coast and Midwest. Collectors prize both species in the domestic and foreign pet trade market. The Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica) is native to central Sub-Saharan Africa. Its venom can cause shock, loss of consciousness or death in humans.
The maximum sentence under the Lacey Act and firearms charges are five and 10 years’ imprisonment, respectively, and a $250,000 fine for each charge.
The USFWS Office of Law Enforcement in Vero Beach, Florida; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducted the investigation as part of Operation Middleman. The operation focused on the trafficking of reptiles from the United States to China.
Trial Attorney Ryan Connors of ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonja Profit for the Middle District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.