South Carolina business owner sentenced for illegal sale of turtles

I’ve explored my angst with turtles many times over the past eight years of blogging; and while I’m slowly recovering from the childhood trauma (and barfing) I’m always mildly taken aback whenever someone decides to sell the little turtles, even though the act has been banned since 1975.

Because they make little kids sick.

Steve Maleh, 42, who owns and operates Island Breeze on North Forest Beach Drive, Hilton Head Island, was sentenced in federal court in turtle.kissCharleston by U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt Jr., according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Maleh, of Plantation, Fla., was arraigned last year in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on a seven-count indictment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Hilton Head Island code enforcement officials investigated complaints the store was providing baby turtles to customers.

The federal government has banned the sale of turtles with shells less than 4 inches long since 1975, in an attempt to prevent exposing people, especially children, to salmonella, which can be regularly found on the turtles, according to the FDA and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charleston.

Hilton Head code enforcement officers and FDA agents made multiple visits to the store over several years, informing Maleh and his staff that distributing juvenile turtles was illegal. But despite numerous warnings, Maleh continued to distribute the turtles to customers, according to a federal prosecutor.

Hulbert said Island Breeze did not sell the turtles outright, but sold small aquariums for about $20 and included a baby turtle with the purchase. The town and U.S. Attorney’s Office had issued numerous warnings to the business, but it continued the practice, he said.

The U.S. Attorneys Office says Maleh also pretended to be an FDA agent. An owner of a competing Hilton Head business received a letter, purportedly from the FDA, telling him to stop selling juvenile turtles or face fines and prosecution. An investigation revealed Maleh sent the letter, according the U.S. Attorney’s Office.