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DEC Files Charges in Largest Seizure of Illegal Reptiles in State History

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced that Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) charged an Allegany man with multiple violations in connection with an ongoing investigation into the illegal possession and sale of wildlife, resulting in the largest seizure of illegal reptiles in state history.

“When public safety and the well-being of wildlife are jeopardized by reckless care, DEC is committed to holding violators responsible,” Commissioner Seggos said. “I commend DEC staff for helping to bring these charges and look forward to continuing to work with the Cattaraugus County District Attorney and our law enforcement partners to uphold New York’s strong environmental laws.”

William Engelder, 71, of Allegany, Cattaraugus County, was charged with reckless endangerment in the 1st degree, a class D felony; illegal sale of wildlife, a class E felony; possessing a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor; nine counts of overdriving, torturing, and injuring animals, an Agriculture and Markets Law class A misdemeanor; failure to provide proper sustenance, an Agriculture and Markets Law class A misdemeanor; 26 counts of illegally possessing and transporting venomous reptiles, a violation; possessing an endangered species without a permit, a violation; and 283 counts of illegally possessing a wild animal as a pet, a violation.

ECOs and Investigators with DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation (BECI) unit along with DEC’s Division of Wildlife staff conducted a search warrant at Engelder’s residence in Allegany in August 2018, after receiving a tip about a man harboring illegal animals. The warrant resulted in the largest-ever law enforcement seizure of reptiles in New York State. Several of the animals seized were threatened species or species of special concern.

Venomous reptiles, including three king cobras, one of which was over 10 feet long, and six Gila monsters were among the animals allegedly illegally housed at the residence. King cobras are among the most deadly animal species on earth.

Seventeen bog turtles, a native endangered species of New York; two box turtles; 28 Blanding’s turtles; 53 wood turtles; two painted turtles; six snapping turtles; and 184 spotted turtles that were allegedly being illegally possessed were also seized. The final count of illegally kept wildlife amounted to 292 animals. Twenty boxes of various species of turtle eggs were also seized.

The Cattaraugus County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case. If convicted on all charges, the defendant faces up to a maximum fine of $104,000 and/or up to 33 years in prison.