ALLEGANY — Nearly 11 months after seizing almost 300 reptiles and turtles from a home on Union Street, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced charges Wednesday against an Allegany man.
William Engelder, 71, of Allegany, was charged with multiple violations in connection with an ongoing investigation into the illegal possession and sale of wildlife. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said the seizure was the largest one involving reptiles in state history.
“When public safety and the well-being of wildlife are jeopardized by reckless care, DEC is committed to holding violators responsible,” Seggos said.
“I commend DEC staff for helping to bring these charges and look forward to continuing to work with the Cattaraugus County District Attorney and our law enforcement partners to uphold New York’s strong environmental laws,” the DEC commissioner said.
The Aug. 8, 2018 seizure of the reptiles including king cobras, Gila monsters, rare and endangered turtles and other reptiles closed off Union Street for much of the day while biologists cataloged and prepared the reptiles for transport.
Engelder has been charged by DEC conservation officers with first-degree reckless endangerment, a class D felony; illegal sale of wildlife, a class E felony; possessing a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor; nine counts of overdriving, torturing, and injuring animals, an Agriculture and Markets Law class A misdemeanor; failure to provide proper sustenance, an Agriculture and Markets Law class A misdemeanor; 26 counts of illegally possessing and transporting venomous reptiles, a violation; possessing an endangered species without a permit, a violation; and 283 counts of illegally possessing a wild animal as a pet, a violation.
District Attorney Lori P. Rieman said she had agreed to prosecute the case, despite a fear of snakes. First Assistant District Attorney Amber Kerling shares her fear of snakes, Rieman added.
The search and seizure of the reptiles stemmed from a call to the state TIP line about a man harboring illegal animals. Several of the animals seized were threatened species or species of special concern.
Venomous reptiles, including three king cobras — one of which was over 10 feet long — and six Gila monsters were among the animals allegedly illegally housed at the residence, according to DEC officials. King cobras are among the most deadly animal species on earth.
Seventeen bog turtles, a native endangered species of New York; two box turtles; 28 Blanding’s turtles; 53 wood turtles; two painted turtles; six snapping turtles; and 184 spotted turtles that were allegedly being illegally possessed were also seized, for a final count of 292 illegally kept wildlife. Twenty boxes of various species of turtle eggs were also seized.
If convicted on all charges, the defendant faces up to a maximum fine of $104,000 and/or up to 33 years in prison.
The Times Herald was unable to reach Engelder, as the known phone number for him was disconnected.
The district attorney said she did not know whether Engelder had an attorney.