Two China Eastern Airlines staffers could face jail time after unsuccessfully attempting to smuggle 45 spotted and box turtles from Los Angeles to Shanghai, where the reptiles could have sold for over $40,000.
Flight attendant Huaqian Qu of China plead guilty Thursday to a federal charge of conspiracy in L.A., which carries a possible penalty of up to five years in prison, the O.C. Register reports.
On May 12, Qu and co-defendant Renfeng Gao, a flight crew member with China Eastern Airlines, were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for attempting to carry the turtles on board in pillowcases and plastic bags.
Though the turtles are protected by international law, court papers state that the animals could be worth more than $40,000 in Asia, where the market is "robust" for turtle species native to the U.S.
Gao is set to appear in court June 22, and is expected to plead guilty, the outlet reports.
Notably, this is the second time Qu has attempted to smuggle turtles from LAX to China. According to court papers, the man is believed to have smuggled a dozen turtles in January.
- With AP