Turtle-poaching cases marked secret; What’s going on?

Florida box turtle. Wikimedia Commons.

Arrest records of two Fort Myers men charged last week with poaching thousands of Florida turtles mostly for sale in Asian markets are marked confidential in Lee County court records.

The Phoenix, inquiring whether the men are in custody and the status of their cases, could not reach law-enforcement authorities Wednesday who might answer those questions.

The suspects are Michael Boesenberg, 39, and Michael Clemons, 23, arrested by officers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after the officers executed a search warrant.

FWC investigators said Boesenberg ran a sophisticated network of wildlife traffickers based out of Lee County. FWC said the turtles were sold for prices ranging from $300 to $10,000 each, depending on the market for each species and where it was sold.

The wildlife charges against Boesenberg, in addition to turtle poaching, include possession of “black bear parts” and possession of marijuana and THC oil.

FWC reported its officers, acting on a tip, documented the suspects illegally captured and sold more than 4,000 turtles in a six-month period. More than 600 of those have since been evaluated and released into the wild.

“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle species and our ecosystems. We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal wildlife trafficking,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton in a statement last week.

FWC says the species poached include Florida box turtles, Eastern box turtles, striped mud turtles, Florida mud turtles, chicken turtles, Florida softshell turtles, Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtles, spotted turtles and diamondback terrapins. Biologists said the illegal harvest diminished some species in the Lee County area so much that the poachers expanded into additional areas to gather the animals.

“We know that the global black market in live animals includes traffickers smuggling protected species of turtles out of the United States, usually for export to the Asian pet market,” said Craig Stanford, chairman of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, in remarks published by the FWC.

“This sinister and illegal trade threatens the future of many species of North American animals, and as one of the most threatened animal groups on the planet, turtles are at the forefront of our concern.”

Laura Cassels
Veteran journalist Laura Cassels is a reporter, writer and editor returning to Florida’s Capitol Press Corps in Tallahassee, where she was bureau chief for Florida Freedom Newspapers after serving as city editor at the Panama City News Herald. She is a classical pianist, has a home in Tallahassee and has a farm in South Georgia, where her extended family grows blueberries, grapes and pecans. She is a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.