13 nabbed in statewide poaching ring of gators, tortoises and deer, wildlife officials say

Thirteen people were charged in connection with a poaching ring in which fish and wildlife were illegally harvested and sold to restaurants, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Friday.

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FWC said three people have been taken into custody, 10 others were issued charging documents and more than 10 others are in the process of being charged in Orange, Levy, Pinellas and Broward counties.

Investigators said the operation targeted people who hunted deer out of season, alligators without licenses and permits and protected gopher tortoises.

They said the ring also illegally targeted snook while the population was recovering from exposure to red tide.

"The product is not just being harvested for personal use, but for commercial purposes," FWC Maj. Grant Burton said. "Some of this is being used and sold to businesses, so there's a public safety concern with the quality of the meat and how it's preserved."

Investigators did not specify which restaurants bought the fish and meat, but they said a tortoise could be sold on the black market for $25 and a deer could be sold for at least $100. Officials said they launched their investigation in May 2017 and that more charges could be filed.

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