The 27-year-old Canadian college student was caught shipping 1000s of turtles smuggled from Michigan to China; sentenced to nearly 5 years in prison.
Some people pay for college by crafting lattes, others by waiting on tables or working at bookstores. But Kai Xu found a novel way to help pay for his education – turtle smuggling. And now the Canadian has been sentenced to just under five years in prison for his “shell game.”
According to Global News, Xu regularly visited Michigan to buy and ship thousands of turtles to China – his crime was discovered when he was caught at the Canadian border with dozens of the creatures strapped to his legs. While it is legal to buy turtles in the U.S., it is illegal to ship wildlife overseas without a federal permit. Apparently Xu shipped the turtles from both the States and Canada, or paid mules to fly East with the turtles in their luggage. The turtles included North American varieties such as eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders and diamondback terrapins — some of which sell for $800 each
In China, the turtles make desirable pets.
While Xu expressed remorse, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward described his smuggling scheme as one of the largest in recent years. Her request was for five years in prison – which is near the lower end of the sentencing spectrum. U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara could have settled for even less, but went with a sentence of 57 months.
In a letter to O’Meara, Xu wrote that he sold the turtles to make money for college and that he was a semester shy of an engineering degree. His defense attorney said that Xu was not a “sophisticated international dealer.” Yet prosecutors argued that the turtle trading was worth more than $1 million.
An appeal is in the works, with Xu’s attorney saying that the sentence is severe. But hello, illegal wildlife trade? What may seem like a silly incidence of turtles in the pants is actually a very serious issue. As noted on the Fish & Wildlife Service site, thousands of wildlife species are threatened by illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade – it’s often unsustainable, harms populations of animals and plants and pushes endangered species toward extinction. And honestly, it's just mean. Hopefully a few turtles can breathe a little easier now ... pants and suitcases are stifling.