An undercover investigation that began in 2015 when officers infiltrated the state’s alligator farming industry has now resulted in the apprehension of nine people thought to be part of an illegal operation.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the suspects had allegedly violated “Florida’s laws pertaining to possession of American alligator, alligator egg harvesting, interstate transport of alligator eggs and hatchlings, falsifying official records, dealing in stolen property, conspiracy to commit racketeering, racketeering and other wildlife violations.”
The severity of the charges includes first, second and third-degree felonies.
“Many of these suspects were part of a criminal conspiracy,” said Maj. Grant Burton, head of the FWC’s Investigations Section which was responsible for the operation. “Their crimes pose serious environmental and economic consequences. These suspects not only damage Florida’s valuable natural resources, information and evidence no evidence they also harm law-abiding business owners by operating black markets that undermine the legal process.”
Per an official release by FWC, during the covert operation, officers managed to successfully become part of the alligator farming community to gather information and evidence about poachers who were breaking the law regarding the SWC’s public and private land alligator egg harvesting program and alligator farming.
During the undercover investigation, more than 10,000 illegally harvested eggs were documented.
FWC acknowledged that there are aspects of the investigation that are still ongoing and it expects to make more arrests.
The original nine alleged perpetrators include, from Arcadia, Robert Kelly Albritton, Robert Thomas Beasley, Carl Wayne Pickle Jr. and Wayne Andrew Nichols. Three were from Fort Denaud including Christopher Lee Briscall, Isaiah Joseph Romano, and Jacob Oliver Bustin-Pitts. David Wentworth Nellis from Punta Gorda and Matthew Edwards Evors of Cape Coral Florida were also arrested.
More information about the suspects and what they have been charged with was also made available in the release.
The public can help by reporting suspected violations to the FWC. To make a report, call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com.