TORONTO – A Canadian who was caught at the border with 51 live turtles stuffed down his pants is facing charges in the U.S. over an alleged reptile smuggling operation, recently unsealed court documents show.
The U.S. federal court documents show officers with the Canada Border Services Agency intercepted Kai Xu as he attempted to cross into Windsor, Ont., from Detroit last month.
“During the secondary inspection, Xu was found to have 51 live turtles taped to his person,” Kenneth Adams, a special agent with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stated in an affidavit outlining the criminal complaint.
“Specifically, Xu had 41 turtles taped to his legs and 10 hidden between his legs.”
Canadian authorities seized the turtles, which included North American varieties such as eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders and diamondback terrapins – some of which sell for $800 each – and turned them over to American officials.
While the interception occurred in August, details were only made public after Xu and a second Canadian, Lihua Lin, 30, of the Toronto area, were arrested and charged in U.S. district court this week following an investigation by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Xu, 26, and Lin appeared in federal court in Detroit on Thursday charged with smuggling, illegal trading and exporting. They could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
In a separate criminal complaint against Xu’s co-accused filed with the court, Special Agent Matthew Martin described how wildlife officials witnessed “known reptile smuggler” Xu pick up several boxes of live turtles in Novi, northwest of Detroit, on Tuesday.
He drove them to a hotel near the Detroit international airport, where he placed the reptiles in a room he had booked for two nights. He later met up with Lin at the hotel.
On Wednesday, Xu dropped Lin off at the airport bound for Shanghai, China. Lin checked in two pieces of luggage and a search turned up more than 200 North American pond turtles. Lin was arrested after saying he had nothing to declare.
None of the allegations has been proven in court and the accused have not offered a defence.
The turtles are apparently prized as food or pets in China.
In his detailed complaint, Adams described how his agency had received a tip Aug. 5 from a courier company in Detroit about a parcel addressed to Xu that was awaiting pickup.
The brown box, which had been shipped from Alabama, weighed about three kilograms and had no air holes but carried the notation “Live fish – keep cool.”
On the same day, U.S. border agents notified the fish and wildlife agency that Xu had crossed into Detroit from Windsor in an SUV.
Adams and other agents then staked out the courier depot, where Xu arrived to pick up the brown parcel.
Xu then apparently opened various boxes in the rear of the SUV, took out several round clear plastic containers, and placed their contents into plastic baggies. He was also seen with packaging tape and scissors.
“Xu turned towards me as he looked around the parking lot,” Adams states.
“As he did so, Special Agent (James) Fuller noticed irregularly shaped bulges under Xu’s sweatpants on both his legs.”
Xu then drove toward Windsor, where he was stopped.
He is due to appear in bail court in Detroit on Friday, said Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman with the U.S. attorney’s office.