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SCDNR assists in federal case of protected reptile trafficking

An Arizona man has been prosecuted by federal authorities for the sale of reptiles protected in that state in a case with ties to South Carolina.

Investigators with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ (SCDNR) Law Enforcement Division assisted federal authorities with the case, in which the defendant, Jonathan Sampson Benson, pled guilty to taking reptiles from Arizona and selling them in South Carolina. In November 2013, Benson sold two falsely labelled Gila monsters, two prairie rattlesnakes, two tiger rattlesnakes, and one speckled rattlesnake in interstate commerce. Benson was also charged with making a similar transaction in July 2014. This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the SCDNR.

“We were glad to be able to provide assistance to federal authorities and to our colleagues in Arizona to help bring this case to a successful conclusion,” said Col. Chisolm Frampton, SCDNR’s Deputy Director for Law Enforcement. “I’m very proud of the work our officers did on this case.”

Benson pleaded guilty earlier this week before U.S. District Judge Steven P. Logan on three counts of federal Lacey Act violations. The court then ordered him to serve five years of probation and pay $2,225 restitution to the Lacey Act Reward Account and $2,500 to the Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Theft Prevention Fund. Benson was also ordered to forfeit all wildlife to the government, which includes two Gila monsters, two prairie rattlesnakes, two tiger rattlesnakes, one speckled rattlesnake, one Hopi rattlesnake and one Arizona black rattlesnake. The Lacey Act prohibits people from importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law, treaty or regulation of the United States or in violation of any tribal law.