Man charged with trafficking venomous snakes out of Georgia home

(Image by Foto-Rabe from Pixabay)

Federal authorities have charged a South Carolina man with trafficking turtles and venomous snakes out of a Georgia home.

A federal grand jury in Georgia charged 35-year-old Ashtyn Michael Rance of Dalzell, South Carolina with trafficking vipers and turtles as well as the illegal possession of firearms.

 According to the indictment, Rance sold 16 spotted turtles and three eastern box turtles to a buyer in Florida in February 2018. Officials accuse Rance of sending the reptiles in a package falsely labeled as carrying tropical fish and lizards.

Similarly, in May 2018, Rance shipped another package to Florida and claimed it contained "harmless reptiles and ball pythons." Instead, it had 15 venomous Gaboon vipers.

Those sub-Saharan vipers have the second-highest venom yield of any snake, according to experts. Officials say their venom can cause shock, loss of consciousness, or death in humans.

The indictment says when authorities searched Rance's Valdosta home, they found a rifle and a shotgun, which was illegal due to Rance having prior felonies.

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"Rance’s reckless shipment of venomous snakes and illegal possession of firearms demonstrate the dangers of wildlife trafficking," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). "I applaud our federal and state law enforcement partners for keeping the public and delivery couriers safe."

Officials say the arrest was part of Operation Middleman, which focuses on trafficking reptiles from the United States to China.

If convicted, Rance could face up to five years imprisonment for each violation of wildlife trafficking and 10 years for each firearm charge as well as up to a $250,000 fine for each charge.

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