‘I sell box turtles to wealthy Chinese in New York:’ Kentucky man sentenced to jail for illegally selling $140,000 worth of pet reptiles, nearly crashing local market

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A Kentucky man has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for illegally selling hundreds of captured box turtles on the international pet market, which nearly caused the collapse of the local population in the eastern part of Kentucky. of Bluegrass.

Christopher Cool, 59, of McKee, Kentucky, admitted selling reptiles for around $140,000 to buyers in New York and elsewhere, on the understanding that they would be sold in Asia where they are popular as pets .

He pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits the interstate sale of wildlife, in July 2020.

Prosecutors say that between 2019 and 2020, Cool enlisted friends to help trap the turtles for which he paid them $10 each. He would then sell the turtles to out-of-state buyers for $100 or more.

“I sell box turtles to wealthy Chinese in New York for a hundred dollars each and up,” Cool wrote to a friend at the time of his 2020 arrest, according to court documents. “And I have an inexhaustible supply here.”

Cool is believed to have taken nearly 700 turtles from the wild in Kentucky and another 125 in West Virginia, a rate that could have ultimately decimated the population, prosecutors said.

“Taking the number of turtles that Cool brought out of the wild could have resulted in a collapse of the box turtle population in that area if he hadn’t been stopped.”


— Prosecutors in the case

“All turtles, including box turtles, have a slow rate of maturity and removing the number of turtles that Cool brought out of the wild could have resulted in a collapse of the box turtle population in that area if he had not been arrested,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

In the United States, box turtles are considered a vulnerable species largely due to their overtrapping and demand as pets, particularly in Asia, according to wildlife authorities.

A message left for Cool’s attorney was not immediately returned. In court filings, Cool said he had long been active in collecting and trading reptiles, but only turned to the widespread sale of turtles to make ends meet after being forced to disability when he suffered a back injury and could no longer work his job at a tiling company.

Cool also said he used some of the money to help friends in need, a claim prosecutors dispute.

“While he may have helped friends or neighbors in financial difficulty, he also indulged himself by buying a Harley Davidson and illegal drugs,” reads the prosecution’s sentencing memo.

Cool admitted in court documents that since becoming disabled, he had become a meth user.

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