TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Wildlife officials have busted a black-market snake trafficking ring in Florida, arresting eight people associated with the ring, including a Polk County man suspected of harboring an alligator, authorities announced in a news release.

Since 2020, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has been investigating reports and complaints about a thriving black market of illegal and highly dangerous venomous reptiles.

Through the course of their investigation, FWC agents were able to purchase or sell nearly 200 venomous snakes from suspected traffickers across the state.

The snakes were made up of 24 species from seven different regions of the globe, including the bushmaster, inland taipan, rhinoceros viper, African bush viper, Gaboon viper, green mamba, eyelash viper, spitting cobra, forest cobra and saw-scaled vipers.

“Some of these snakes are among the most dangerous in the world,” said Maj. Randy Bowlin, FWC DLE Investigations and Intelligence Section Leader. “Florida’s rules and laws are in place to protect the public and prevent tragedies from occurring.”

The nonnative species pose a significant threat to Florida’s ecology and public safety, and could easily live and breed in Florida’s subtropical climate if they were to escape.

“During this investigation, officers saw and heard disturbing evidence of widespread illegal activity, not the least of which were individuals who indicated that they were releasing or planning to release prohibited reptiles into nearby native habitat to establish a readily accessible wild breeding population,” Investigations Section Captain Van Barrow said.

The FWC says most of the deals were arranged on specialized websites or closed media. Once the deals were arranged, in-person meetings were set up and the snakes were sold.

According to the FWC, some of the men were wholesale dealers who imported large shipments of nonnative venomous snakes from multiple countries around the world. 

“Caging, labeling, transport and handling rules were also often ignored by subjects,” the release said.

The FWC obtained search warrants for many of the social media accounts associated with the ring and identified more suspects in and out of Florida.

“FWC investigators realized early into the investigation that the black market for venomous reptiles in Florida was robust, and subjects identified in the operation were dealing reptiles frequently and in high numbers, often to or from unpermitted individuals,” the release said.

Working with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the FWC was able to arrest and charge eight men with a number of violations. The defendants and a summary of charges are outlined below:

Delvin Eugene Sasnett, 32, of Eagle Lake, Florida was charged with possessing an American alligator, child neglect, possession of a venomous reptile, possession of threatened species and caging and transport violations among other charges. In addition to the sale of venomous reptiles, he was also involved in the sale of other types of wildlife, the release said. Further information about those sales and the gator was not immediately available.

William Chase Agee, 32, a convicted felon from Holly Hill, Florida didn’t have a permit to sell reptiles. He was allegedly involved in multiple illegal sales and purchases of venomous reptiles and was charged with sale of a venomous reptile to an unlicensed person, possession of venomous reptile by an unlicensed individual, and possession of firearm by convicted felon among other charges.

Edward Daniel Bays, 25, of Southwest Ranches, Florida was charged with possession of a prohibited species, releasing of nonnative wildlife, transportation of prohibited species, transfer of prohibited species to or from an unlicensed person and transporting wildlife in an unsafe manner.

Timothy James Gould, 38, of Central City, Pennsylvania was described as a well-established wildlife transporter who advertises his illegal transport services on a popular online marketplace for wildlife dealers. He is not permitted in Florida for captive wildlife or venomous reptiles, according to the FWC. He was arrested in Georgia with 27 snakes in his possession illegally and charged with no import permit, sale or transfer to an unlicensed person, improper labeling and improper caging among other charges, the release said.

Jorge Javier Gonzalez, 23, of Miami was charged with illegal trafficking of prohibited species, specifically Burmese pythons. The FWC said it documented the illegal sale and transport of these invasive species on multiple occasions.

Dylan Isaac Levin, 30, of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida was well-documented making multiple illegal purchases and sales of illegal reptiles, according to the FWC. He was charged with sale of a controlled substance, sales of a venomous reptile to an unpermitted individual and improper venomous reptile records.

Paul Edward Miller, 48, of Cape Coral, Florida was described as a large importer of snakes, a well-established wildlife wholesaler and the owner of Calusa Animal Company. In addition to multiple violations regarding caging, labeling and husbandry, investigators said Miller also aided in the falsification of required experienced hours documentation.

Joseph David Switalski, Jr., 37, of Plantation, Florida is a well-established reptile dealer and the owner of JDS Holdings and Trading, LLC. He was allegedly involved in multiple illegal sales and purchases of more than 60 snakes. Switalski was charged with multiple violations.