A St. Paul man who pleaded guilty to illegally exporting turtles to Hong Kong was sentenced on Monday to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service.
Rene Patrick Vargas, 32, was charged in federal court last August with three counts of falsely labeling packages with the turtles inside as "toys" and "components."
He was also ordered by Judge Patrick Schiltz to pay $2,370 in restitution.
The turtles are prized as collectors' items in China and Hong Kong, as well as for food and medicine. That's contributed to a decline in North America's native population of the turtles, according to prosecutors. Anyone wishing to export wildlife must get prior inspection and approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to court records, Vargas shipped at least 13 different packages of turtles on six days between May and July 2017. The turtles were wrapped in socks and packing tape, and "were neither free to move nor provided with holes for food, air or water," according to prosecutors.
Vargas told Wildlife Service agents that moving the turtles was "the easiest money I've ever made," according to the court records. Though he acknowledged exporting them was wrong, he said "it just didn't seem like that big of a deal."
Vargas' defense attorney declined to comment. In federal records, Vargas argued for a lighter probation sentence, saying he fully cooperated with the investigation and had "deep shame" for what he had done.