Man pleads guilty in LA to smuggling turtles

A Japanese man has pleaded guilty to smuggling 55 live turtles and tortoises from his country into the United States by hiding them in snack food boxes.

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that 39-year-old Atsushi Yamagami pleaded guilty Monday to one felony count of smuggling in a Los Angeles courtroom. Yamagami faces a maximum of 20 years in prison at his Oct. 31 sentencing.

Another man in the operation, Norihide Ushirozako (nohr-ih-HEE'-day USHEE'-row-zah-koh), pleaded guilty May 23 and is scheduled for sentencing Tuesday.

The men, both from Osaka, were arrested in January at Los Angeles International Airport as part of an undercover investigation by U.S. federal agents called Operation Flying Turtle.

The animals are protected by an international endangered species agreement and can only be imported with a permit.