The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, has filed felony and misdemeanor charges against eight people after a multi-year investigation discovered they were illegally trading venomous and illegal snakes.
The investigation began in 2020 after receiving reports and complaints about a black market being used to buy and sell highly toxic reptiles in Florida.
The illegal sale, purchase, and transport of these snakes and their cage-holding pose a significant threat to the public, endangering the long-term welfare of the state’s wildlife population and undermining functioning legal captive wildlife traders, the state agency said in a news release Friday. Legally.
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Another concern is that if the animals escape, they could easily thrive and reproduce, given Florida’s subtropical climate.
The investigation uncovered nearly 200 snakes of 24 different species from seven different regions across the world. Snakes were bought or sold by undercover agents with FWC.
Some of the species sold and purchased include bushmaster, inland taipan, rhinoceros viper, African bush viper, Gabon viper, green mamba, eyelash viper, spitting cobra, forest cobra and saw-sized vipers.
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“Some of these snakes are among the most dangerous in the world,” Maj. Randy Paulin of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement said in a press release. “Florida’s rules and laws are in place to protect the public and prevent tragedies.”
Much of the illegal activity was carried out on specialized websites or closed social media pages. Once the deals were arranged, personal meetings were set up to conduct the transactions.
Among the people involved were wholesalers who imported large shipments of non-native venomous snakes from several countries around the world.
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FWC agents obtained search warrants for several social media accounts and worked in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
d said. Benjamin Appo, principal investigator and medical director: “The actions of individuals like the people charged today make our jobs on Venom 1 and 2 much more difficult.” “We fight every day to keep people alive and minimize permanent complications after a tragic bite. Rules for the transport, confinement and handling of these animals are in place for important reasons.”
The eight arrested persons faced several charges of misdemeanor and felony.
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Dolphin Eugene Sasnett, 32, of Eagle Lake, Florida, has been charged with possession of an alligator, but investigators also said they have found evidence to charge him with several serious violations involving poisonous reptiles and other wildlife. He was also charged with child neglect.
William Chase Agee, 32, of Holy Hill, Fla., is not allowed and is allegedly involved in numerous illegal buying and selling of venomous reptiles, the statement said. Agee is also a convicted felon, and investigators said he was aware of the regulations regarding snakes.
Dylan Isaac Levine, 30, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has been charged with selling a controlled substance and selling venomous reptiles to an unauthorized individual and improper venomous reptile registries.
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Edward Daniel Baez, 25, of Miami, Florida, was charged with possession of prohibited species, release of non-native wildlife, transportation of prohibited species, transportation of prohibited species to or from an unauthorized person, and transportation of wildlife in an unsafe manner.
Jorege Javier Gonzalez, 23, of Miami, has been charged with illegal trade in banned species, primarily Burmese pythons. On multiple occasions, FWC investigators have documented the illegal sale and transfer of these invasive species.
Paul Edward Miller, 48, of Cape Coral, Florida, also named in the release, is a large importer of rattlesnakes, a well-known wildlife wholesaler and owner of Calusa Animal Company. In addition to the multiple violations related to booking, marking, and breeding, investigators said Miller helped forge documents for required experience hours.
FWC described Joseph David Switalski Jr., 37, of Plantation, Florida, as an established reptile dealer and owner of JDS Holdings and Trading, LLC. The investigation revealed that he was involved in numerous illegal buying and selling of more than 60 snakes.
Timothy James Gould, 38, of Central City, Pennsylvania, is allegedly an established wildlife carrier, according to the FWC, and is not allowed in Florida for captive wildlife or venomous reptiles. Officials said Gold advertises his transportation services online to wildlife dealers, and when he was caught, he was in illegal possession of 27 pythons.
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“During this investigation, officers saw and heard disturbing evidence of widespread illegal activity, not least of which were individuals who indicated that they were releasing or planning to release banned reptiles into their nearby native habitat to create easily accessible wild populations,” Investigation Captain Van Barrow said.