9:18 AM CDT, May 1, 2012
LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- A Japanese national described in court documents as "a major wildlife trafficker" was sentenced Monday to 21 months in federal prison for smuggling 55 live turtles and tortoises from Japan into the United States.
39-year-old Atsushi Yamagami, of Osaka, Japan, pleaded guilty last August to smuggling the 55 reptiles from Japan.
The animals were all concealed in snack food boxes when they were discovered at Los Angeles International Airport in January 2011.
In addition to the prison term, Yamagami was ordered to pay a $18,403 criminal fine.
The money will be paid to the Lacy Act Reward Account, which is used to finance investigations conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The majority of the turtles and tortoises were species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international treaty that protects species being threatened by international trade.
Federal prosecutors said the method of secreting the turtles in snack food packages stuffed into suitcases constituted animal cruelty, and the animals posed the risk of transmitting salmonella.
Two of Yamagami’s couriers -- Norihide Ushirozako and Hiroki Uetsuki, both Japanese citizens believed to reside in Osaka -- were arrested and prosecuted for wildlife smuggling in 2011.
Ushirozako was sentenced last August in Los Angeles federal court to time served, which was approximately seven months.
Uetsuki was also sentenced to time served -- approximately six months -- in January 2001 in federal court in Hawaii.