A Hilton Head man pleaded guilty in federal court in Charleston on Wednesday to selling baby turtles and impersonating a federal agent.
Steve Maleh, 42, of Plantation, Fla., entered his plea to multiple counts of illegal distribution of juvenile turtles and one count of impersonation of a federal agent.
Maleh owned the Island Breeze store on Hilton Head Island and was selling baby turtles to customers, according to prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Over a number of years, federal officials warned Maleh and his staff that selling baby turtles was illegal, officials said. Selling turtles with a carapace length of less than four inches has been banned by the federal government since 1975. The purpose for the ban is to avoid exposure of individuals, primarily children, to salmonella, which can be regularly found on turtles, prosecutors said.
Despite the warnings, Maleh continued selling them, according to prosecutors.
Also, in April 2011, Maleh sent a letter to a competing business on Hilton Head pretending to be the Federal Drug Administration, stating the business must stop selling baby turtles or be subject to fines or prosecution.
Maleh faces a maximum of four years in prison and $251,000 fine. He will be sentenced at a later date.