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Twin cities man illegally ships dozens of turtles to Hong Kong, charges say

ST. PAUL—A St. Paul man faces federal charges after illegally shipping turtles to Hong Kong under the guise he was mailing toys, authorities say.

Rene Patrick Vargas, 32, was charged Monday, Aug. 6, with three counts of false labeling under the Lacey Act, according to information released Tuesday by the United States Attorney's District of Minnesota Office.

Vargas allegedly shipped 38 North American box turtles labeled as "toys" or "components" to Hong Kong between June 1 and June 14 of last year, charges say.

The animals are in demand in Hong Kong, China and other places for use in food, traditional medicines and to be kept as pets, the federal office reported.

The turtles are native to the United States and Mexico and are reportedly declining in number due to loss of habitat and illegal trade.

While they don't currently face the threat of extinction, North American box turtles are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Act.

The act makes it illegal to export wildlife without approval and inspection by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Shipment also requires a valid export license and permit, the federal office said.

Vargas could not be reached for comment.