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Apr 1, 2009 9:37 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

DEC snags poachers targeting turtle eggs

Apr 1, 2009 9:37 AM

One man was a snake dealer. The other man was his longtime friend.

Together, state authorities said, they made tens of thousands of dollars poaching snapping turtle eggs from deep in the Manorville pine barrens, shipping baby turtles to a Louisiana farm for transport to markets in China for eventual sale and consumption.

Adam Borisuk, owner of the reptile business Millennium Morphs in Wading River, and his friend, Michael Brooks of Holbrook, were arrested after investigators with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation uncovered their snapping turtle operation and raided their homes on December 9, 2008.

The DEC raids were a part of a larger operation called “Operation Shellshock,” in which 18 people were arrested on charges of poaching, smuggling and illegally selling protected species of turtles and snakes. The poachers and traders uncovered in the investigation operated illegal markets stretching from Florida to China. The results of the operation were announced by the DEC on March 19.

“What they found was alarming,” DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said in a prepared statement. “Their work sends a strong message that the buying and selling of New York’s native species will not be tolerated.”

Both Mr. Borisuk and Mr. Morphs were charged with grand larceny in the fourth degree and several counts of commercialization of wildlife, all felonies. Both were arraigned in 1st District Court in Central Islip on Tuesday and pled not guilty to the charges. Their attorneys did not return calls for comment.

Daniel Sullivan, an undercover investigator with the DEC, was responsible for gathering evidence on Mr. Borisuk and Mr. Brooks. On poaching expeditions deep in the pine barrens with the two men, Mr. Sullivan, who had previously befriended the men, said he wore concealed wires for a recording device, carried a hidden camera and knew that if something went wrong, he did not have any backup.

“I never really had any security concern with Adam or Brooks,” Mr. Sullivan said. “I guess if they found out who I was, that would have been a different story.”

The Manorville investigation began in 2007 when Mr. Sullivan, posing as an amateur poacher, responded to an ad posted on Kingsnake.com, a website for commercial reptile breeders.

“‘Wanted: 20,000 snapping turtles,’” Mr. Sullivan recalled the suspicious ad stating. “Phone calls led me to selling [Mr. Borisuk] 200 snapping turtles—just to develop a business relationship with these guys.”

New York State outlawed the poaching of snapping turtles in 2006. Still, on the black market, a baby snapping turtle sells for as much as $10. A nest of snapping turtle eggs, carrying on average between 30 and 60 eggs, could net a poacher as much as $600.

“It’s a tremendous amount of money for a little baby snapping turtle,” Mr. Sullivan said. “These guys knew how to find the nests and they made a ton of money off it.”

Mr. Sullivan said he eventually earned the trust of Mr. Borisuk, who invited him to come to Manorville last year to learn how to poach snapping turtle eggs with his friend, Mr. Brooks.

Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Borisuk and Mr. Brooks poached with impunity. The men had a route that they followed where they knew fresh eggs could be found: along the Peconic River, south of River Road, and along the banks of Swan, Sandy and Fox ponds. They even knew that eggs would be buried in the ballast of local railroad tracks.

During the mating season of the turtles, specifically in May and June of 2006 and 2007, Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Borisuk would “go out every day and night” to poach eggs. When Mr. Brooks joined Mr. Borisuk in 2007, they carried two-way radios and traded off roles looking out for DEC rangers and digging up eggs.

They would take the eggs home, incubate them for several weeks until they hatched and immediately ship the baby turtles to Worldwide Turtle Export, a turtle farm in Collinston, Louisiana. Investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raided the farm in December.

The men continued poaching because they felt the law was not being enforced and that there was nothing to lose, according to authorities.

“I would say that [Mr. Borisuk] boasted,” Mr. Sullivan said. “He used to brag about all the money he made and how easy it was and how the DEC would never do a sting operation.”

On one poaching expedition, Mr. Sullivan recalled Mr. Borisuk exclaiming with a hint of pride that there were no turtle eggs to be found in the pine barrens.

“He said, ‘Where are all the turtles?’” Mr. Sullivan recalled. “I was thinking, ‘He’s the reason there are no more turtles.’”

Environmentalists hailed the arrests this week.

Tom Stock, a Manorville resident and naturalist who leads regular hiking expeditions through the pine barrens, said the food chain suffers when snapping turtle eggs are poached. For raccoons, the eggs are an important food source.

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Good job DEC !
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Mar 27, 09 12:31 PM
How much taxpayer dollars went into this for some turtles?

Cmon now...
By slamminsammy (104), Hampton Bays on Mar 27, 09 1:56 PM
Hey slamminsammy - the law is the law. Once a particular species is gone it is gone forever. living things are priceless. perhaps they should have shipped you off to Louisiana
By lgfla (8), Southampton on Mar 27, 09 3:23 PM
To bad someone didn't steal slamminsammys egg back in the day
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Mar 27, 09 4:01 PM
Great job.
By Bob Murray (3), Westhampton on Mar 27, 09 5:38 PM
Someone please slam sammy.
By landarchi (33), Southampton on Mar 27, 09 11:17 PM