Smuggling is a problem the airline industry faces often, but one flight attendant pleaded guilty Thursday to illegally bringing two-dozen turtles into China.
According to OCRegister.com, a Chinese national named Huaqian Qu was working for China Eastern Airlines as a flight attendant when he was caught at Los Angeles International Airport on May 12 attempting to smuggle turtles in his work luggage.
TSA agents discovered 10 protected spotted turtles and 14 box turtles inside Qu’s bag, with all of the animals hidden in pillowcases and plastic bags. Qu was arrested with co-defendant Renfeng Gao, who was also caught smuggling 21 spotted turtles in his bag.
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The United States Attorney’s Office said Qu entered his guilty plea in downtown Los Angeles to a federal charge of conspiracy and faces up to five years in prison. Gao is also expected to plead guilty.
Qu and Gao, both attendants for the same airline, were preparing to work a flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai when they were caught with the turtles, which are protected by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
With neither man obtaining proper paperwork for the animals, the authorities believe profit was the motive, as the turtles could be worth more than $40,000 in Asia. Court documents also showed this wasn’t Qu’s first turtle-smuggling attempt.
Not only was he suspected of smuggling a dozen turtles to China in January, but he was also stopped by TSA agents at LAX last month when they discovered live animals in his luggage again. Qu cited his “enthusiasm for turtles as a teenager” as the reason he had the animals.
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