Illegal Wildlife Dealer Accused of Poaching Turtles and Alligators, and Capturing Thousands of Flying Squirrels in Florida, Shipping them to South Korea

Ocala National Forest (Imagery ©2020 Landsat / Copernicus, Google, TerraMetrics, Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, Imagery ©2020 TerraMetrics, Map data ©2020 Google United States)
Ocala National Forest (Imagery ©2020 Landsat / Copernicus, Google, TerraMetrics, Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, Imagery ©2020 TerraMetrics, Map data ©2020 Google United States).

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources worked with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and federal agencies to take down a wildlife trafficking ring operating from Florida to Chicago Asia.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced today, Monday, October 19, 2020, that earlier this year their officers made the first arrests in a series, which now involves a total of seven suspects and 25 felony charges with additional arrests forthcoming. This group of suspects have been charged with Racketeering, Money Laundering, Scheming to Defraud and other organized criminal laws involving an elaborate organized enterprise to smuggle Florida’s wildlife to interstate and international buyers.

In January 2019, the FWC received a complaint from a concerned citizen about individuals illegally trapping flying squirrels in a rural area of Marion County, northwest of Orlando, Florida. Flying squirrels, a protected wild animal in Florida, are sold internationally in the pet trade. Over the next 19 months, FWC Investigators pieced together an elaborate scheme in which flying squirrels were illegally captured by poachers in multiple counties throughout central Florida. The flying squirrels were then sold to a wildlife dealer in Bushnell, Florida (west-northwest of Orlando), and proceeds were laundered through the licensed business of this dealer, who claimed they were captive bred.




The poachers deployed as many as 10,000 squirrel traps throughout central Florida and as many as 3,600 flying squirrels were captured in less than three years. In three years, the wildlife dealer received as much as $213,800 in gross illegal proceeds. The FWC estimates the international retail value of the poached wildlife will exceed $1 million.

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 in rental cars to Chicago, where the source of the animals was further concealed, and the animals were exported to Asia by an unwitting international wildlife exporter. As the operation expanded, couriers from the state of Georgia would take over the transports. One Georgia courier would fly to Orlando, rent a vehicle and drive the animals to Atlanta. A second hired courier would then drive the animals to Chicago. Each of the new participants would not know the identity of the other suspects.




As FWC Investigators monitored the operation, they learned the Florida suspects were dealing in multiple species of poached animals. Protected freshwater turtles and alligators were illegally taken and laundered through other seemingly legitimate licensed businesses. Documents were falsified concealing the true source of the wildlife.

“A State and Federal Task Force was created and was instrumental in accomplishing this operation,” said Maj. Grant Burton, FWC Investigation’s section leader.

The Illinois Conservation Police, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Homeland Security Investigations worked closely together to collect evidence of the international smuggling operation. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was also instrumental in intercepting wildlife shipments to California. The FWC Investigators detected illegally taken freshwater turtles were shipped from Tampa International Airport to Los Angeles. California agents were notified and intercepted the wildlife shipments.

“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.




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 [email protected] Further charges and arrests as a result of this investigation may be forthcoming. The investigation is being prosecuted by the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

According to the FWC the suspects face the following charges …

Rodney Crendell Knox (DOB 04/15/1954) Bushnell, Florida

Racketeering
Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
Money Laundering
Scheme to Defraud
Grand Theft
Dealing in Stolen Property

Kenneth Lee Roebuck (DOB 03/02/1961) Lake Panasoffkee, Florida

Racketeering
Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
Scheme to Defraud
Grand Theft
Dealing in Stolen Property

Donald Lee Harrod Jr. (DOB 02/04/1971) Bushnell, Florida

Racketeering
Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
Scheme to Defraud
Grand Theft
Dealing in Stolen Property

Vester Ray Taylor Jr. (DOB 03/30/1980) Webster, Florida

Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
Dealing in Stolen Property

Jong Yun Baek (DOB 05/02/1964) Marietta, Georgia

Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering

Ervin Woodyard Jr. (DOB 8/10/1980) Greenville, Georgia

Unlawful Possession of Wildlife (Georgia DNR)
Violation of Probation (Trafficking a Person for Sexual Servitude – Georgia)

Unnamed Fugitive

Racketeering
Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering
Scheme to Defraud
Grand Theft
Dealing in Stolen Property




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Ocala is the County Seat of Marion County, and much of the Ocala National Forest is located in Marion County, along with three other counties.

Ocala National Forest (Imagery ©2020 Landsat / Copernicus, Google, TerraMetrics, Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, Imagery ©2020 TerraMetrics, Map data ©2020 Google United States)
Ocala National Forest (Imagery ©2020 Landsat / Copernicus, Google, TerraMetrics, Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, Imagery ©2020 TerraMetrics, Map data ©2020 Google United States).