Kai Xu was not happy to see the border guard. Those were turtles in his pants.
51 of them. Mostly taped to his legs. Others hidden in his crotch.
The scene is described in an affidavit that was filed in U.S. federal court on Tuesday alleging that Xu, a Windsor resident, tried to sneak the amphibious reptiles across the Windsor-Detroit border in August.
His bulging sweatpants gave him away. He is charged with smuggling and illegally exporting fish or wildlife. His bond hearing in a Detroit court is scheduled for Friday.
He faces up to 10 years in a federal prison.
Xu was also charged by the Canada Border Services Agency with smuggling and failing to present an animal for inspection that he was bringing into the country. The CBSA declined to comment beyond enumerating his charges, citing an ongoing investigation. The case will be tried in Windsor federal court.
Xu’s cargo included a range of North American species: Eastern box turtles, Red-eared sliders, Diamondback terrapins, and others.
He was likely hoping to sell the turtles. David Mifsud, a Michigan herpetologist, said some species are valued as pets in Southeast Asia and can sell for up to $800 a pop.
The sting that foiled Xu’s alleged plan was set in motion on August 5 when a UPS employee found a suspicious package at one of the company’s parcel pick-up depots in Detroit. The brown cardboard box had been sent by air from Semmes, Alabama; it was inscribed in red marker with the message “LIVE FISH KEEP COOL.” It weighed about seven pounds.
The employee, whose name is given as Dave, called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency promptly sent three investigators to stake out the UPS depot.
In the afternoon, Xu arrived at the parking lot in a tan Ford Escape with Ontario plates. After picking up his package, he appeared to empty its contents into baggies, which he placed in a grocery bag.
After disappearing between two UPS trailers, he emerged with no grocery bag, and visible lumps under both of his sweatpant legs, the criminal complaint says. These were presumably caused by the turtles.
The Fish and Wildlife agents stopped trailing Xu before he entered the Windsor-Detroit tunnel, but CBSA agents in Canada flagged him for an inspection, which revealed 41 live turtles taped to his legs and 10 “hidden between his legs.”
The CBSA turned the turtles over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who could not be reached for comment Thursday.
This type of crime is a growing problem, according to Mifsud, the herpetologist. “Smuggling turtles across international border is unfortunately an increasingly common occurrence,” he said.