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Arizona man sentenced for violating wildlife laws

Posted December 21, 2017

PHOENIX — An Arizona man has been convicted and fined for violating the Lacey Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Dec. 13.

Jonthan Sampson Benson pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Steven P. Logan on three counts of Lacey Act violations. The court then ordered him to serve five years of probation and pay $2,225 restitution to the Lacey Act Reward Account and $2,500 to the Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Theft Prevention Fund. Benson was also ordered to forfeit all wildlife to the government, which includes two Gila monsters, two prairie rattlesnakes, two tiger rattlesnakes, one speckled rattlesnake, one Hopi rattlesnake and one Arizona black rattlesnake.

“Investigators from the Arizona Game and Fish Department worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources on this long-term reptile case,” said Ken Dinquel, wildlife law enforcement programs coordinator for AZGFD. “Our mission is to conserve and protect Arizona’s more than 800 native wildlife species so that future generations will be able to appreciate and enjoy the state’s birds, reptiles and mammals.”

The Lacey Act prohibits people from importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law, treaty or regulation of the United States or in violation of any tribal law.

Benson pleaded guilty to taking reptiles from Arizona and selling them in South Carolina. In November 2013, Benson sold two falsely labeled Gila monsters, two prairie rattlesnakes, two tiger rattlesnakes, and one speckled rattlesnake in interstate commerce. Benson was also charged with making a similar transaction in July 2014.

The restitution paid to AZGFD will support the Operation Game Thief program, which pays cash rewards to individuals whose information leads to an arrest in a poaching or wildlife violation case. The department encourages anyone with information about the illegal take of wildlife to call 800-352-0700 or use the online form at www.azgfd.gov/ogt.

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