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Businessman Sentenced in Turtle Case

March 09, 1995|JEANNETTE DeSANTIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST HILLS — The operator of a seafood company in Westminster who was found with thousands of dead and dying turtles was sentenced this week to two months in jail beginning May 9.

Mark Rommel Osterholt, 28, of West Hills, who operates Osterholt and Sons Seafood Co., pleaded no contest to charges of cruelty to animals and possession of a prohibited species--snapping turtles--after police found 1,112 turtles, more than half of them dead or dying, in burlap bags in a van parked in front of his home. More than a thousand more were found at a Westminster warehouse.

California law prohibits the possession of snapping turtles--aggressive, carnivorous reptiles native to the southeastern United States--because they could spread in the wild and attack native species, the city attorney's office said.

Other turtles found in the van were red-eared turtles, sliders, diamond backed terrapins, coolers and eastern painted turtles, which are also native to the southeastern United States. Most of the turtles in the van died from dehydration, crushed shells or open wounds, and were infested with maggots.

Hundreds of dead or dying turtles were also found in a Westminster seafood warehouse by police. The turtles were discovered last May when neighbors of Osterholt's condominium in West Hills noticed a foul smell coming from a parked van that had not moved for three days. Workers in the area found the turtles in the van and reported it to police.

Investigators said Osterholt imported his turtles from a business associate in Arkansas and sold them to restaurants and seafood outlets in California.

The turtles were worth about $8,000, according to Osterholt.

A hearing is scheduled for May 9 to determine if Osterholt must reimburse the court $27,000 for veterinary care given to the surviving turtles.

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