A South Carolina man is being accused of trafficking “highly venomous snakes” and other reptiles out of his home in Georgia, the Justice Department says.
Ashtyn Rance, a 35-year-old from Dalzell, was taken into custody this week by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents after being charged by a federal grand jury for trafficking vipers and turtles and illegally possessing two firearms, the department said in a statement.
“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, adding how the ATF and Departments of Natural Resources from both states assisted in the investigation. “Together, we have stopped highly venomous snakes, and our nation’s own wildlife, from being smuggled.”
The Justice Department, citing an indictment, alleges that Rance sold 16 spotted turtles and three box turtles to a Florida buyer in February 2018.
“He shipped the reptiles from Valdosta in a package falsely labeled as containing tropical fish and lizards,” the statement said.
Prosecutors say three months later, Rance sent another package to the Sunshine State with a label claiming it contained “harmless reptiles and ball pythons”.
“In reality, Rance had shipped 15 Gaboon vipers, which are venomous snakes,” the Justice Department said.
It added that collectors prize both species of turtles in the domestic and foreign trade markets, while the venom of the Gaboon viper – which is native to Sub-Saharan Africa — “can cause shock, loss of consciousness or death in humans.”
The statement continued by saying that Rance possessed and sold the reptiles in violation of Georgia laws and also committed violations of the Lacey Act, a federal law protecting wildlife.
While conducting a search warrant at Rance’s Valdosta home in May 2018, law enforcement found a Bushmaster Carbine .223 caliber rifle and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, the Justice Department also said, noting that Rance – who has a past felony conviction — was violating federal law by possessing the weapons.
If found guilty, the trafficking charges carry a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the firearms charge carries the same fine and a maximum 10-year sentence.