Operation Kingsnake: Men sentenced for illegal snake trading in - KPTV - FOX 12

Operation Kingsnake: Men sentenced for illegal snake trading in Oregon, other states

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California mountain kingsnake from Oregon. Photo: USFWS California mountain kingsnake from Oregon. Photo: USFWS

Three men have been sentenced as part of Operation Kingsnake, a three-year investigation into the illegal trafficking and collecting of hundreds of wild snakes in Oregon and 11 others states, as well as Canada.

Michael Collalto of Rochester, New York pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to four Lacey Act violations.

Investigators said from 2008 to 2012, Collalto was part of a group of people who trafficked hundreds of illegally collected snakes from Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Canada.

Collalto, a breeder and collector of reptiles, pleaded guilty to three counts of illegal transport of wildlife and one count of illegal receipt of wildlife, which are misdemeanors under the Lacey Act.

Under the Lacey Act, it is illegal to knowingly ship or receive snakes in interstate commerce that were taken in violation of state law.

Investigators said Gerard Kruse of Douglaston, New York sent Collalto three California mountain kingsnakes that were captured illegally in Oregon, along with a protected northern pine snake taken from the wild in New Jersey.

Collalto was sentenced to four years probation and must forfeit his snakes. He is also banned from the collection, sale and trade of reptiles and amphibians and must pay a $5,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Account and complete 300 hours of community service.

The Lacey Act Reward Account is used to pay for rewards for information on wildlife crimes and care for live wildlife seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Kruse pleaded guilty to 13 Lacey Act violations and faces a similar sentence as Collalto. Investigators said he transported and received 59 snakes that were collected from and protected by various states, including Oregon.

A third suspect arrested as part of Operation Kingsnake, Shannon Brown of Bishop, California, bought and traded illegally obtained snakes with Kruse. Brown received a similar sentence as the other two men.

The case was investigated by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The case was prosecuted by the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division with assistance from the U.S. Attorney's office in Rochester, New York.

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