Alleged turtle smuggler faces long stretch in a shell

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — An alleged turtle smuggler could end up in a shell for a long time.

Kai Xu, 26, of Windsor is expected to plead guilty Oct. 28 in federal court, according to court records filed 13 months after the man allegedly strapped 51 reptiles to his groin and legs during a failed attempt to cross the Detroit-Windsor border into Canada.

Xu, whose arrest made international news, is described by federal prosecutors as a professional smuggler known as “Turtle Man.” Xu allegedly shipped to far-flung locales thousands of reptiles hidden in snow boots and cereal boxes.

The case provided rare insight into a lucrative, international smuggling ring that operated in at least three countries and peddled thousands of turtles, some endangered and worth $1,800 each.

Defense lawyer David Cripps could not be reached for comment immediately Friday. The nature of Xu’s expected plea was unclear but he is facing criminal charges that could send him to prison for 10 years.

He is being held without bond.

Xu and a Canadian man, alleged reptile courier Lihua Lin, were arrested in September 2014 after Lin tried to fly to Shanghai, China, with 970 turtles hidden in his luggage.

While Chinese names generally are last name first, first name last, the two were referred to as Xu and Lin in court filings.

Xu hired Lin after posting an ad seeking someone to sell cosmetics for $4,000 a month, according to testimony. The real job involved smuggling turtles, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Mona Iannelli said.

Xu drove his alleged courier to Detroit Metropolitan Airport with two pieces of luggage. Agents found the turtles — including 700 diamondback Terrapins and 16 kwangtung river turtles.

The dark-brown kwangtung turtle with stripes on its neck is worth up to $1,800 in the U.S. — and are three times as valuable in China, Iannelli said.

The reptile shipment, packed in rubber snow boots and boxes of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, included wood turtles ($500 each), Blanding's turtles ($300), and albino red-eared sliders ($650), the agent said.

In all, the turtle shipment was worth more than $30,000 on the black market.

Agents arrested Lin before he could board a plane to Shanghai. The Toronto-area man told agents Xu paid for the plane ticket, gave him a $500 down payment and promised $2,000 upon return to the U.S., according to testimony.

Lin, who is free on bond, is awaiting a Sept. 30 preliminary examination in federal court.

The airport arrest came one month after Xu was busted after entering Canada through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. On Aug. 5, 2014, agents found 51 turtles taped to Xu's legs and hidden in his groin, according to a criminal complaint.

The 1,007 confiscated turtles were sent to the Detroit Zoo.

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