HomeOutdoorsNewsOfficials Bust Illegal Venomous Snake Trafficking Ring in Florida

Officials Bust Illegal Venomous Snake Trafficking Ring in Florida

by Caitlin Berard
Rhinoceros Viper, Among the Venomous Species Traded in Snake Trafficking Ring
(Photo by IMPALASTOCK via Getty Images)

For years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigated a suspected illegal snake trafficking ring. Now, after countless hours and immeasurable effort, those responsible have finally been brought to justice.

Eight people face a variety of charges for their involvement in the trafficking of venomous and prohibited snakes. The charges against the suspects range from second-degree misdemeanors to third-degree felonies. Law enforcement slammed the suspects with more than 60 charges between them, including the sale of venomous reptiles to an unlicensed person and illegal transportation of venomous reptiles.

Those facing charges include:

  • Delvin Eugene Sasnet, 32, of Eagle Lake
  • William Chase Agee, 32, of Holly Hill
  • Dylan Isaac Levin, 30, of Palm Beach Gardens
  • Edward Daniel Bays, 25, of Southwest Ranches
  • Jorge Javier Gonzalez, 23, of Miami
  • Paul Edward Miller, 48, of Cape Coral
  • Joseph David Switalski, Jr., 37, of Plantation
  • Timothy James Gould, 38, of Central City

Snake Trafficking Ring Involved Trade of World’s Deadliest Reptiles

Throughout the course of the investigation, dubbed “Operation Viper,” FWC undercover investigators purchased or sold close to 200 snakes across 24 species from seven different regions of the globe to or from wildlife traffickers. Some of the species sold include the inland taipan, bushmaster, rhinoceros viper, African bush viper, Gaboon viper, green mamba, eyelash viper, multiple species of spitting cobra, forest cobra, puff adder, and saw-scaled vipers.

Now, some of these species are protected by law, preventing their removal from the wild. But that’s far from the only reason the FWC went to such lengths to bring the snake trafficking ring to a halt. Though not an inherent threat to humans if left alone, these snakes are among the most dangerous animals on Earth. In the wrong hands, they can be deadly.

“Some of these snakes are among the most dangerous in the world,” Maj. Randy Bowlin, FWC DLE Investigations and Intelligence Section Leader said in a news release. “Florida’s rules and laws are in place to protect the public and prevent tragedies from occurring.”

How the FWC Busted the Illegal Wildlife Traffickers

According to the FWC, they had received “intelligence reports and complaints” indicating the existence of a black market for the purchase and sale of illegal and deadly reptiles in Florida. It was these reports that sparked Operation Viper, the investigation that unearthed a massive snake trafficking ring.

Operators organized the black market sales largely through closed social media pages and specialized websites. Once the deals were arranged, the illegal salesmen would set in-person meetings with buyers, unaware that they were actually undercover agents.

Through their investigation, agents collected evidence proving that the violators bought and sold snakes with the full knowledge of the illegality of their actions.

The FWC’s bust of the illegal snake trafficking ring was a major win for wildlife officials and enthusiasts everywhere. Sadly, however, it was far from a unique situation. Wildlife trafficking remains a major issue throughout the globe.

According to the FWC, wildlife trafficking ranks fourth behind drugs, weapons, and humans in global activity. The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates wildlife black markets represent an $8-10 billion industry.