Florida man pleads guilty to trafficking thousands of turtles to Hong Kong, Germany

A Florida man, who owns a reptile shop, pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday for trying to illegally export thousands of wild-caught turtles to Hong Kong and Germany, court records show.

John Michael Kreatsoulas, 36, admitted to trafficking turtles and falsifying documents from July 2015 to July 2021, according to court documents filed in the Southern District of Florida.

Kreatsoulas, the owner of Omni Reptiles, Inc. in Alva, Florida, worked with co-conspirators to sell Florida-origin fresh-water turtles — including three striped mud turtles which is a type of Florida mud turtle —through Miami International Airport, court documents show.

Jordan Donini, A biology professor at Florida Southwestern State College prepares to release a Florida mud turtle at the Naples Botanical Gardens on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Donini, along with the help of several FSW students and former students along with staff from the Naples Botanical Gardens released almost two dozen turtles that were originally poached from Southwest Florida and then confiscated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.


To get the turtles out of the country, Kreatsoulas falsified U.S Fish and Wildlife Service forms by saying the turtles were captive-bred and not wild-caught, according to court documents. He also falsified sales invoices to cover his crimes, the documents continued.

The total market value of the illegally acquired and exported turtles is at least $125,000, according to court records.

A sentencing hearing for Kreatsoulas is set for May 17. He is facing a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison for each count, court records show.

What are striped mud turtles?

Striped mud turtles are brown and oval-shelled small aquatic turtles that can grow to four inches in length, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Three stripes may be visible on the turtles' upper shells, the FWC said. Another recognizable feature is the turtles' large heads with two small yellow stripes on each side.

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Striped mud turtles' diets consist of insects, worms, snails, algae, seeds and the remains of invertebrates, according to the FWC.

The turtle species inhabit ponds and ditches in Florida, the FWC said. The turtles' protected population can be found in the Florida Keys from the western portion of the Seven Mile Bridge to Key West.

Jonathan Limehouse covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at JLimehouse@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida man John Kreatsoulas pleads guilty to trafficking turtles