A Brunswick man apparently can’t keep his hands off turtle eggs.
Lewis Jackson, 60, pleaded guilty Friday before Chief U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood in Brunswick to stealing loggerhead sea turtle eggs in violation of the Lacey Act, according to a news release.
Among other things, the Lacey Act makes it unlawful for any person to acquire, receive and transport loggerhead sea turtle eggs, as loggerheads are an endangered species under federal law.
In 2013, Jackson was convicted a first time for stealing turtle eggs, and was sentenced to serve six months in prison. He was on federal supervised release when he was caught stealing turtle eggs for the second time, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.
According to evidence presented during Friday’s guilty-plea hearing, a wildlife technician with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Sea Turtle Program discovered that 84 loggerhead sea turtle eggs from a nest on Sapelo Island were missing on July 6, 2015.
Law enforcement determined that one of the visitors to the island that day was Jackson, who had stolen more than 150 loggerhead turtle eggs in 2012. The next day, July 7, Jackson was arrested while trying to leave the island with a cooler full of sea turtle eggs, the federal prosecutor’s office said.
Jackson appeared to have wrapped the eggs with the intent to sell them. Loggerhead eggs now fetch as much as $25 each on the black market. Because of Jackson’s handling of the turtle eggs, they were no longer viable and were therefore destroyed, the release says.
Sea turtles are long-lived and slow to reach maturity. Pressures from the illegal harvesting of eggs and the poaching of adults worsen the extinction risk faced by these animals. In Georgia, the loggerhead sea turtle is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and is the most common sea turtle that nests on Sapelo Island, according to the release.
In 2013, Jackson was sentenced to six months in prison and two years of supervised release. For his second conviction, he faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A new sentencing date will be set after the U.S. Probation Office conducts a presentence investigation. Jackson remains in the custody of the U.S. Marshals pending his sentencing, the release says.
“This defendant has attempted to profit yet again by unlawfully exploiting an endangered species and a national treasure,” U.S. Attorney Edward Tarver said. “Since his six months was apparently not a sufficient deterrence, we will ask that this defendant be sentenced to serve a significant amount of the next few years in a federal prison.”
Luis Santiago, special agent in charge of the Southeast Region for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said, “We take our mission to support our state-counterpart wildlife enforcement agencies very seriously, and we will continue to work with our counterparts to concentrate on and aggressively pursue individuals who are involved in the illegal trade of protected species of wildlife.”