Tahoe City Man Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Newts and Turtles Into the US

Tahoe City Man Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Newts and Turtles Into the US

A turtle at Stow Lake in San Francisco on Aug. 11, 2014. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin


Updated: 6/25/2024


A Tahoe City, California, man pleaded guilty June 24 to one count of smuggling amphibians into the United States as part of an international ring, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.
Authorities say Andrew Laughlin, 47, admitted he participated as a middleman to acquire hard-to-find newts.
An expert kayak guide, Mr. Laughlin owns and operates Tahoe City Kayak about 110 miles east of Sacramento on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe, an alpine lake that straddles California and Nevada.
Mr. Laughlin was accused of shipping or receiving at least four packages of amphibians and reptiles, including packages to and from people in Hong Kong and Sweden.
The packages were falsely labeled as toy cars, rubber toys, or other items, but they. actually contained live animals including Eastern Box turtles, spotted turtles, fire belly newts, Asian warty newts, and newts native to California, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Some of the shipments contained banned species that could harm U.S. ecosystems and natural resources, according to authorities.
A search of the defendant’s home turned up 81 live newts of various species. Some of the newts tested positive for a virulent fungi that originated in Asia and is spread through illegal pet trading, the attorney’s office reported.
Mr. Laughlin did not return a request for comment Tuesday. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 7 by U.S. District Judge William Shubb in Sacramento.
Under the plea agreement, Mr. Laughlin agreed to pay restitution for the costs to care for and test the seized newts. He also agreed to undertake a voluntary public education campaign at his kayaking store about the harms of illegal amphibian trafficking, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The actual sentence will be determined by the judge.

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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