OKLAHOMA CITY – Yesterday, JOSHUA TAYLOR LUCAS, of Austin, Texas, pleaded guilty to a single-count felony Information charging him with wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act, announced Robert J. Troester, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.
On April 14, 2020, Lucas was charged by Information with violating the Lacey Act. Among other offenses, the Lacey Act prohibits people from importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing any fish, wildlife, or plant that was taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law, treaty or regulation of the United States or in violation of any tribal law.
Yesterday, Lucas pleaded guilty to taking an endangered species of wildlife and then selling and shipping the animals across state lines in violation of the Lacey Act. At the hearing, Lucas, a former assistant curator of herpetology at the Oklahoma City Zoo, admitted that he stole several Galapagos tortoise hatchlings during his tenure at the Zoo. Lucas further admitted that he sold and shipped 21 Galapagos tortoise hatchlings to a Nevada resident, Kenneth Warren Foose II (deceased), who was previously under Indictment in the Southern District of Texas for the illegal traffic of Galapagos tortoises.
At the combined plea and sentencing hearing, United States District Judge Bernard Jones accepted the guilty plea and then sentenced Lucas to serve three years of probation, perform 100 hours of community service, and pay $32,500 in restitution to the Oklahoma City Zoo.
“The exploitation and trafficking of endangered wildlife for personal profit is unacceptable,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Troester. “I commend the steadfast efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the prosecutors in this case, who are committed to hold traffickers of endangered animals accountable.”
Phillip Land, Special Agent in Charge for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Office of Law Enforcement for the Southwestern U.S., stated “This investigation involved the illegal traffic of endangered Galapagos tortoises for the exotic pet trade. This iconic species is the largest tortoise in the world, with hatchling sized juveniles carrying a black market value starting at $5,000 per animal. Our Special Agents and Wildlife Inspectors make it a priority to identify, investigate, and dismantle illegal trafficking networks, and refer individual violators for prosecution under U.S. Laws.”
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Brown and Trial Attorney RJ Powers from the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the investigation.