A former reporter and Levittown native is facing up to five years in prison for trafficking protected turtles. David Sommers, 64, plead guilty Monday to sending 11 diamondback terrapin hatchlings north to Canada.
In violation of the Lacey Act, Sommers mislabeled the package as containing a $10 book instead of the creatures held within. Officials say his operation last from Aug. of 2014 until Oct. of 2017.
“Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are a semi-aquatic species of turtle native to brackish waters in eastern and southern United States,” states a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “They are not found in the wild in Pennsylvania, where Sommers resided, but have a dwindling habitat range in neighboring New Jersey. The terrapins are prized in the reptile pet trade for their unique, diamond-shaped shell markings.”
In his plea deal, Sommers agreed to forfeit nearly 3,500 diamondback terrapin hatchlings he poached from coastal marshes in New Jersey.
With its population dwindling, the Garden State native has been listed as threatened since 2013.
Sommers has worked for numerous news outlets in the local area including the Bucks County Courier Times, Levittown Now, The Trentonian, and his own Bucks News Network.
The turtle enthusiast’s sentencing is scheduled for May 15. He may face an additional $250,000 fine along with a requirement to pay back the cost of the turtles to New Jersey as restitution.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cooperated with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife to complete to investigation.