Local man charged with smuggling endangered turtles

SEATTLE -- A local man has been charged with helping Chinese nationals smuggle more than 160 endangered Eastern Box turtles and one Gila monster into Hong Kong in boxes labeled everything from "boots, clothes, belts" to "T-shirts and used wrist watch."

According to charging documents, Nathanial Swanson, owner of Seattle Reptiles in Everett and Swanee's Exotics, was paid more than $15,000 between August 2008 and October 2012 for shipping the animals to Chinese nationals living in Auburn and elsewhere. The Chinese nationals would then send the animals on to Hong Kong, according to documents.

During shipment, multiple turtles lost limbs and at least one died. Swanson reportedly started wrapping the turtles in socks and packaging them with things like jeans and DVDs to avoid detection.

Regardless, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers seized two shipments of turtles, one in July 2009 and another in November of that year.

In addition sending turtles, Swanson also received a number of turtles native to China and Vietnam in trades with his sources in Hong Kong, according to charging documents.

Swanson and his associates are facing charges of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act and to defraud the United States, false labeling and smuggling.