7 arrested after 3,600 flying squirrels trafficked from Florida in alleged international pet trade

Florida

(Source: FWC)

TAMPA (WFLA) – Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers made seven arrests in a transnational wildlife trafficking operation regarding flying squirrels and other protected animals in Florida.

According to FWC, in January of 2019, they received a complaint from a citizen about people illegally trapping flying squirrels in rural areas of Marion County.

Flying squirrels are protected in Florida, though are often sold internationally in the pet trade.

Over the next 19 months, FWC investigators pieced together the scheme and found the flying squirrels were illegally caught by poachers in multiple counties throughout central Florida, sold to a wildlife dealer in Bushnell and laundered licensed business of the dealer, who claimed they were captive bred, not wild, according to FWC.

The poachers allegedly set as many as 10,000 traps throughout central Florida and caught as many as 3,600 flying squirrels in less than three years.

FWC investigators learned buyers from South Korea would travel to the United States and purchase the flying squirrels from the wildlife dealer in Bushnell.

The animals were then driven to Chicago and exported to Asia by unknowing participants.

As FWC investigators monitored the situations, they learned the Florida suspects were dealing in multiple species of poached animals.

Protected freshwater turtles and alligators were also illegally taken and laundered.

FWC estimates the poachers earned over $200,000 illegally.

The suspects have been charged with racketeering, money laundering, scheming to defraud and other crimes involving a plan to smuggle Florida’s wildlife to interstate and international buyers.

FWC said more arrests and felony charges are coming.

“Wildlife conservation laws protect Florida’s precious natural resources from abuse. The concerned citizen who initially reported this activity started an investigation that uncovered a major smuggling operation. These poachers could have severely damaged Florida’s wildlife populations,” said Maj. Burton, FWC Investigation’s section leader.

The following have currently been charged in the investigation:

  • Rodney Knox, 66, of Bushnelll, is charged with:
    • Racketeering
    • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
    • Money Laundering
    • Scheme to Defraud
    • Grand Theft
    • Dealing in Stolen Property 
  • Kenneth Roebuck, 59, of Lake Panasoffkee, is charged with:
    • Racketeering
    • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
    • Scheme to Defraud
    • Grand Theft
    • Dealing in Stolen Property 
  • Donald Harrod Jr., 49, of Bushnell, is charged with:
    • Racketeering
    • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
    • Scheme to Defraud
    • Grand Theft
    • Dealing in Stolen Property 
  • Vester Taylor Jr., 40, of Webster, is charged with:
    • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
    • Dealing in Stolen Property 
  • Jong Yun Baek, 56, of Marietta is charged with Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering.
  • Ervin Woodyard Jr., 40, of Greenville, Georgia, is charged with:
    • Unlawful Possession of Wildlife (Georgia DNR)
    • Violation of Probation (Trafficking a Person for Sexual Servitude – Georgia) 
  • And an unnamed fugitive was charged with the following:
    • Racketeering
    • Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
    • Scheme to Defraud
    • Grand Theft
    • Dealing in Stolen Property

The public can help by reporting any suspected violations to the FWC by calling the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or texting Tip@MyFWC.com.

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