Archive for March 30, 2009


>Staten Island Advance
Saturday, March 28, 2009

Beautiful and dangerous: Poisionous snakes and other exotics illegally kept and sold in Castelton Corners, authorities say

By DOUG AUER

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A Castleton Corners man has been caught collecting, buying, selling and trading protected snakes, turtles, lizards and salamanders — going so far as to erect a building in his backyard to house his extensive, illegal menagerie, authorities said.

Ronald Peteroy, 33, of Garden Street, was snared in an undercover investigation begun by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in 2007.

The sting — dubbed “Operation Shellshock” — has led to charges against 18 people in New York state, including Peteroy, along with six in Pennsylvania and one person in Canada.

The crimes encompassed more than 2,400 animals.

The investigation resulted in charges including 14 felonies, 11 misdemeanors and dozens of violations, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis announced.

For his role, Peteroy is charged with one count of felony commercialization of wildlife involving a federally protected endangered species.

According to the court complaint against Peteroy, the DEC was first tipped off to his animal activity by a Waterways Conservation Officer with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, who had seen an Internet posting advertising two venomous reptiles.

On May 24, 2007, a DEC investigator called the number included in the Web advertisement and was connected to Peteroy, who offered to sell a copperhead snake and rhino viper for $300.

His wife was expecting a baby, Peteroy said, which had forced his hand in respect of the venomous snakes.

During the conversation, Peteroy acknowledged that possession of the copperhead was illegal, because he did not have a permit.

When undercover DEC officials met with Peteroy on May 31 at his home to pay for and pick up the snakes, he expressed relief that the buyers were not “Fish and Wildlife” officers.

In a June 23 e-mail sent that year, Peteroy also admitted to undercover DEC officers that he had acquired ridge-tail monitors, which are unprotected exotic lizards.

On March 3, 2008, plainclothes DEC officers met Peteroy at the Long Island Reptile Expo in Melville, where he informed the would-be customers that he was starting a business, Chris Wholesale Animals, that specialized in the importation of reptiles.

Later that month, on March 15, Peteroy sent the DEC officers an e-mail listing more than six dozen species of exotic and native New York turtles, with prices ranging from the hundreds of dollars to $10,000.

Peteroy sent an updated list on Aug. 21, including alligator snapping turtles, red-headed Amazon River turtles and yellow-spotted Amazon River turtles.

In a Sept. 5 phone conversation, Peteroy told the DEC officer that he was getting rid of the yellow-head turtles because they could result in the business’ being shuttered. He noted that a friend of his had been sent to jail for selling the turtles without the proper accompanying paperwork.

Peteroy also noted that he and a separately charged partner from Long Island had “white-headed monitors. White-headed monitors are legal in America. But they are illegal because it’s illegal to import them from the Philippines.” Peteroy revealed that he would be using contacts in Indonesia and Africa to obtain the animals.

Peteroy then bragged that he and his partner have animals — including breeding stock — stashed in numerous locations.

During the phone call, Peteroy described his inventory as “some really nice stuff,” including Italian fire salamanders, an albino-colored timber rattlesnake, salmon-colored snapping turtles and bearded dragons.

Peteroy also offered to buy baby common snapping turtles from the DEC investigator and revealed another connection in New Jersey.

And he boasted breeding exceedingly rare animals, including a black-headed monitor.

When asked by the DEC official he kept his collection, Peteroy admitted to building a 16-by-20-foot structure behind his house, to which he had connected illegal sewer, electrical and gas hookups from his home.

At the Sept. 7 reptile show in White Plains, Peteroy sold the DEC agent two yellow-spotted Amazon River turtles for $2,000.

Then, on Sept. 21, he explained in detail during a phone call with the DEC office how he had cared for the turtles and that he could procure ball pythons from New Jersey and bog turtles from Florida, if needed.

On Nov. 28, the DEC agent spoke with Peteroy, who explained how he used the phone and Internet to communicate with dealers and buyers, and that he had four computers consolidated onto one hard drive maintaining his business records and transactions.

In total, Peteroy’s wholesale list named over 60 species of native and exotic turtles and reptiles, some of which are illegal species, according to the DEC.

“This investigation showcased the callous depth of cruel wildlife-smuggling black markets. The Humane Society of the United States is pleased that New York officials have sent a strong message that this kind of wanton trade and commercialization of wildlife will not be tolerated in the state,” said Patrick Kwan, New York state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

New York State law prohibits the illegal commercialization of wildlife and possession of protected species, and a 2006 law specifically protects all reptiles and amphibians.

Doug Auer covers police and fire news for the Advance. He may be reached at auer@siadvance.com

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