Former Local Reporter Sentenced For International Turtle Trafficking

Photo by Ryan Hagerty.

A Levittown man who pleaded guilty to stealing diamondback terrapins from nature will spend six months in federal prison, along with a litany of other punishments.

David Sommers, 64, sent 11 of the turtles to Canada, but labeled them as a book to get them through customs. However, the operation was much more extensive. Sommers agreed to forfeit 3,500 terrapins as part of the plea agreement.

Authorities now say the operation lasted from Nov. 2011 to Oct. 2017.

“The defendant had a simple business plan: poach protected turtles and their eggs from their natural habitat, advertise them for sale online and then illegally ship them to customers by concealing the actual contents of the packages,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain.  “Sommers represented himself as a legitimate reptile breeder, when he was in fact endangering the lives of these animals and breaking the law.”

Sommers’ sentence also includes “three years’ supervised release including six months’ home detention, and $250,000 restitution.”

The former local reporter worked for several news outlets. These include the Bucks County Courier Times, Levittown Now, The Trentonian, and his own Bucks News Network.

Native to the coastal marshes of New Jersey, the diamondback terrapin has been “threatened” since 2013. Malaclemys terrapin are valued for their unique shell, but are protected by an international treaty.