2017-12-13 / Front Page

Guilty Plea In Tortoise Snatch

By Liz Goff
A 37-year-old East Elmhurst man pleaded guilty on December 7, to criminally possessing a 17-year-old treasured tortoise named, Millennium, that went missing from his habitat at the Alley Pond Environmental Center on July 16.

Millennium was found in Connecticut one week later, prosecutors said.

Shawn Waters, of 103rd Street, pleaded guilty to fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property before Queens Criminal Court Judge Gia Morris, who indicated she would sentence Waters to six months in jail at his sentencing on January 18.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said, according to the charges, that an employee of the Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC,) realized that Millennium, an African spurred tortoise, was missing at approximately 4 p.m. on July 16, 2017. Employees spotted a hole in a rear fence near the tortoise habitat at the time of Millennium’s disappearance, Brown said. The 95-pound tortoise is estimated to be 17-years-old and is valued at approximately $3,500, Brown said.

According to the charges, a Stamford, Connecticut man posted an item on Craigslist saying that he was selling a musk turtle and that, a day later, he received a cell phone call from a man who stated that he wanted to trade an African spurred tortoise for the turtle, Brown said.

The Connecticut man allegedly met with the caller at the Metro North train station in Fairfield, Connecticut on July 23, where he handed the caller his musk turtle and $300 cash for the African spurred tortoise, Brown said.

Detective John Reinle, of the 111th Precinct Detective Squad, recovered the 95-pound African spurred tortoise from the Connecticut man on July 24, Brown said. An APEC employee identified the tortoise as Millennium on July 25, saying the recovered tortoise was the one stolen from the Douglaston, Queens environmental center, and Millennium was returned to his home.

Brown said the cell phone used by the man who had offered to trade the African spurred tortoise came back to Waters. During a conversation with Reinle, Waters stated that he had spoken to the Connecticut man about exchanging reptiles and met with him to trade the tortoise for the turtle, Brown said.

“Millennium the tortoise is safely back within the confines of his habitat at APEC and the person responsible for his illegal summertime travel across state lines will also be confined – to Riker’s Island,” Brown said. “Let this be a warning that my office will pursue justice for all those in Queens County – including rare tortoises.”

It is unclear if Millennium will appear at Waters’ sentencing, a law enforcement source said.

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