MIAMI – Eight people were arrested Thursday, accused of taking part in an illegal venomous snake trafficking ring in Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
As Local 10′s Orlando news partner WKMG reports, the agency said it began investigating a black market in 2020 that dealt in illegal and highly dangerous venomous reptiles in Florida. If the animals were to escape, they could have a severe impact on Florida’s native wildlife, FWC stated.
“Some of these snakes are among the most dangerous in the world,” FWC Maj. Randy Bowlin said. “Florida’s rules and laws are in place to protect the public and prevent tragedies from occurring.”
Investigators said they discovered that some of those involved in the trade were importing large shipments of nonnative venomous snakes from countries around the world.
Undercover officers arranged in-person meet-ups for these black-market deals, allowing law enforcement agents were able to capture violators, FWC said.
“Some of the individuals apprehended by this operation are established dealers of snakes,” FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said. “Our law enforcement officers will continue to hold accountable those who disregard the rules, which protect our natural resources of the state.”
According to the agency, black-market dealers often launder illegally procured snakes through a properly permitted facility to sell the animals without providing information on their real place of origin.
“During the investigation, officers saw and heard disturbing evidence of widespread illegal activity, not the least of which were individuals who indicated that they were releasing or planning to release prohibited reptiles into nearby native habitat to establish a readily accessible wild breeding population,” Investigations Section Capt. Van Burrow said.
Wildlife trafficking ranks fourth behind drugs, weapons and humans in global black market dealings, FWC officials stated. The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates illicit wildlife trafficking brings in between $7.8 billion and $10 billion per year.
Those facing charges in these arrests are as follows.
Delvin Sasnett, 32, of Eagle Lake faces charges of: • Possession of American Alligator • Child Neglect • Possession of prohibited species • Possession of venomous reptile without a permit • Possession of captive wildlife without a permit • Possession of threatened species • Unsafe conditions • Illegal harvest of freshwater turtles • Caging and biosecurity • No enclosure label (prohibited species) • No critical incident plan • No or incomplete records for wildlife • Transfer of prohibited species to/from unlicensed person • Improper primary enclosure for venomous reptile • Improper secondary enclosure for venomous reptile • No bite protocol • Improper caging of Class 2 wildlife • Transporting turtle eggs • Feeding alligators
William Agee, 32, of Holly Hill faces charges of: • Possession of firearm by convicted felon • Transportation/sale/possession of cannabis • Illegal possession of ammunition • Sale of venomous reptile to unlicensed person • Possession of venomous reptile by unlicensed person • Illegal transportation of venomous reptiles • Illegal transportation of venomous reptiles • Illegal transportation of venomous reptiles • Purchase of prohibited species from unlicensed person
Dylan Levin, 30, of Palm Beach Gardens faces charges of: • Sale of controlled substance • Sale of venomous reptile to unpermitted individual • Improper venomous reptile records
Edward Bays, 25, of Southwest Ranches faces charges of: • Possession of prohibited species • Release of nonnative wildlife • Transportation of prohibited species • Transfer of prohibited species to/from unlicensed person • Transporting wildlife in unsafe manner
Jorge Gonzalez, 23, of Miami faces charges of: Possession of prohibited species Purchase of wildlife from unlicensed person Transfer of prohibited species to/from unlicensed person No safety entrance for prohibited species No escape proof room No enclosure label (prohibited species) No enclosure label (name/PIT #) Solicitation/Attempted Solicitation
Paul Miller, 48, of Cape Coral faces charges of: • Cage or secondary containment • Unsafe or unsanitary conditions for captive wildlife • Improper cage labeling • Cage or secondary containment
Joseph Switalski, Jr., 37, of Plantation faces charges of: • Sale of venomous reptile to unlicensed person • Improper caging of venomous reptiles • Improper cage identification • Improper secondary containment for captive wildlife • No enclosure label (venomous) • Possession of venomous reptiles at unlicensed location • Purchase of venomous reptiles from unlicensed person
Timothy Gould, 38, of Central City, Pennsylvania, faces charges of: • No import permit • Sale or transfer to unlicensed person • Improper labeling • Improper caging • Possession of venomous reptile without a permit • No bite protocol