Investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are using the Internet to bust wildlife law violators. In separate cases made this month in St. Lucie County, FWC investigators charged two people with unlawfully selling or possessing reptiles. The FWC formed the Internet Crimes Unit (ICU) last year to target offenders who are using cyberspace to unlawfully harvest or commercialize Florida’s natural resources.
The most recent regional ICU case was made on Jan. 25. FWC investigators went undercover to respond to a Craigslist ad for an American alligator for sale. Investigators met the seller and agreed on a price of $100 for the live, 18-inch alligator.
Investigators subsequently charged Jason D. Gerrish, 30, of Port St. Lucie with the illegal possession of an American alligator, a misdemeanor. It is illegal to possess an alligator or sell it without the proper permits from the FWC. The alligator was seized and is in FWC custody.
In another ICU case made earlier this month, the FWC received information about an Internet reptile dealer suspected of selling without the proper licenses and permits. Investigators visited the Jungle Shadows website and discovered the dealer was attempting to sell king snakes, ball pythons and boas. Investigators discovered the identity and location of the reptile dealer and performed an on-site inspection and determined the dealer was operating without the proper licenses and permits.
Jody A. Pieper, 33, of Fort Pierce was charged with the unlawful sale of wildlife, a misdemeanor. His permit to exhibit and sell was not current; in fact, it had expired in 2008.
“By creating the ICU, the FWC recognizes the Internet is an avenue with endless possibilities for fish and wildlife law violators,” said Lt. Chris Harris, with the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “Our officers are not limited to patrolling the woods and waters to protect our resources; we’re online, too.”
To report a wildlife law violation, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 (FWCC). Callers may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward if their information leads to an arrest.