‘Operation Viper’: 8 arrested in illegal snake trafficking rings in Florida

MIAMI – Eight people accused of participating in an illegal venomous snake trafficking ring in Florida were arrested Thursday, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

As a news partner of Local 10 in Orlando WKMG reports, the agency said it began investigating a black market trafficking in illegal and highly dangerous venomous reptiles in Florida in 2020. If the animals escaped, they could have a serious impact on Florida’s native wildlife, FWC explained.

“Some of these snakes are some of the most dangerous in the world,” said FWC Major Randy Bowlin. “Florida’s rules and laws are in place to protect the public and prevent tragedy.”

Investigators said they found that some of those involved in the trade were importing large shipments of non-native venomous snakes from countries around the world.

Undercover officers arranged in-person meetings for these black market deals, allowing law enforcement officials to apprehend violators, FWC said.

“Some of the people arrested in this operation are established snake traders,” said FWC Chair Rodney Barreto. “Our law enforcement officers will continue to hold accountable those who flout the rules that protect our state’s natural resources.”

According to the agency, black marketers often wash illegally obtained snakes through a duly licensed facility to sell the animals without providing details of their true place of origin.

“During the investigation, officials saw and heard disturbing evidence of widespread illegal activity, not least of which were individuals who said they were releasing or planning to release prohibited reptiles into a nearby natural habitat in order to establish an easily accessible wild breeding population,” he said Investigations Section Captain Van Burrow said.

The wildlife trade ranks fourth in the global black market, behind drugs, arms and people, FWC officials said. The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that the illegal wildlife trade brings in between $7.8 billion and $10 billion a year.

The accused in these arrests are as follows.

Delvin Sasnett, 32, of Eagle Lake is charged with:

• Owning an American alligator

• Child neglect

• Possession of prohibited species

• Possession of venomous reptiles without a permit

• Owning captive wild animals without a permit

• Possession of endangered species

• Unsafe conditions

• Illegal harvesting of freshwater turtles

• Caging and Biosecurity

• No case label (prohibited species)

• No plan for critical incidents

• No or incomplete wildlife records

• Transfer of Prohibited Species to/from Unlicensed Persons

• Unsuitable primary enclosure for venomous reptiles

• Improper secondary enclosure for venomous reptiles

• No bite log

• Improper caging of Class 2 wild animals

• Transport turtle eggs

• Feed the alligators

William Agee, 32, of Holly Hill is charged with:

• Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon

• Transporting/selling/possessing cannabis

• Illegal possession of ammunition

• Sale of poisonous reptiles to persons without a license

• Possession of venomous reptiles by unlicensed persons

• Illegal transportation of poisonous reptiles

• Illegal transportation of poisonous reptiles

• Illegal transportation of poisonous reptiles

• Buying prohibited species from people without a license

Dylan Levin, 30, of Palm Beach Gardens is charged with:

• Sale of controlled substances

• Sale of poisonous reptiles to unauthorized persons

• Improper records of venomous reptiles

Edward Bays, 25, of Southwest Ranches is charged with:

• Possession of prohibited species

• Release of non-native wildlife

• Transport of prohibited species

• Transfer of Prohibited Species to/from Unlicensed Persons

• Unsafe transportation of wildlife

Jorge Gonzalez, 23, of Miami is charged with:

possession of prohibited species

Buying wildlife from unlicensed individuals

Transmission of Prohibited Species to/from Unlicensed Persons

No security entrance for prohibited species

No Escape Room

No case label (prohibited species)

No Case Label (Name/PIT #)

prompt/attempted prompt

Paul Mueller, 48, of Cape Coral is charged with:

• Cage or secondary containment

• Unsafe or unsanitary conditions for captive wildlife

• Incorrect cage labeling

• Cage or secondary containment

Joseph Switalski, Jr., 37, of Plantation is charged with:

• Sale of poisonous reptiles to persons without a license

• Improper caging of venomous reptiles

• Wrong identification of the cage

• Improper secondary containment for captive wildlife

• No housing label (toxic)

• Possession of venomous reptiles in unlicensed locations

• Buying poisonous reptiles from people without a license

Timothy Gould, 38, from Central City, Pennsylvania, is charged with:

• No import permit

• Sale or transfer to unlicensed persons

• Improper labeling

• Improper caging

• Possession of venomous reptiles without a permit

• No bite log

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https://www.local10.com/news/local/2023/01/14/operation-viper-8-people-arrested-in-illegal-florida-snake-trafficking-rings/ ‘Operation Viper’: 8 arrested in illegal snake trafficking rings in Florida

Sarah Y. Kim

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