Three Lakeland men and an Okeechobee farmer were caught illegally harvesting, selling and buying wild freshwater turtles during an investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
FWC investigators in Polk and Seminole counties developed the case over more than three months after the March 21 arrest of My Van Vo, 31, of 6935 Raymond Ave., Lakeland, according to the agency. Van Vo was caught by FWC officers on Lake Apopka with 87 live softshell turtles weighing more than 500 pounds.
Investigators then learned two other Lakeland men were poaching freshwater turtles on Lake Marion, Lake Haines, Crooked Lake and Lake Walk-In-Water as well as from the St. Johns River. They were transporting and selling their illegal catch to Harden and Son's Turtle Farm in Okeechobee, the agency said.
The three men were known to be involved in the illegal capture and exchange of 2,100 pounds of live turtles, the FWC reported.
The FWC worked with the State Attorney's Office in Florida's 19th Judicial Circuit to charge Canh Van Nguyen, 48, of 1226 Fairlee St., Lakeland, and Lieng Su Pham, 69, of 312 Lanceolate Dr., Winter Haven, with two felonies and four misdemeanors.
The owner of the turtle farm, Franklin Gene Harden, 55, of 3403 SW 26 Ave., Okeechobee, was charged with three felonies and four misdemeanors, according to the agency.
"Turtles are a popular, commercially available food item throughout much of the world and, as a result, overharvest has occurred in many countries," said the FWC's Lt. George Wilson, who led the effort. "To prevent overharvest here, the FWC proactively banned commercial harvest of all native wild turtles in 2009," Wilson said.