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TV reptile expert Donald Schultz accused of illegally selling lizards

September 13, 2013|By Jill Cowan

In a 2010 episode of his Animal Planet series "Wild Recon," self-proclaimed reptile expert Donald Schultz told viewers that he planned to track down an Iranian desert monitor lizard -- an endangered species he described as the Holy Grail of monitors, offered the same level of protection as pandas.

A court document says he was successful -- but not just on the show: The Inglewood-based herpetologist has been charged with illegally selling two of the lizards without a permit, in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act, according to a criminal complaint filed this week in Los Angeles.

If convicted of the misdemeanor charge, Schultz, 36, faces a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Schultz offered up "a collection of reptiles" on Facebook, according to an affidavit in support of the complaint. An undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent responded on July 20, 2010, asking Schultz for a price list, the document says.

Special Agent Lisa C. Nichols wrote in the affidavit that one of Schultz's employees, Michael Clarkson, replied a week later, with a list that included the line, "Iranian Desert Monitors $3,000."

After some back and forth, the document alleges, the undercover agent negotiated down the price for the alleged buyer -- a "guy in New York" -- to $2,500, plus $100 for shipping from Los Angeles.

The "guy in New York" was actually another undercover agent, who received two Iranian desert monitor lizards via Delta Air Cargo in Buffalo, N.Y., a couple of days later, according to the affidavit.

Authorities had begun investigating Schultz and an online business he ran after officials seized a package of smuggled lizards that arrived in New York from South Africa in 2006, according to the affidavit. The package was allegedly addressed to Schultz, who was then living in Oceanside.

The document says that although Schultz had been a licensed wildlife importer starting in May 2006, his license expired in January 2010.

Nichols wrote that in August 2010, after the undercover agents allegedly purchased the reptiles, Resident Agent in Charge Erin Dean recorded a phone call with Schultz, who had asked to film agents working at the wildlife agency's Torrance office for a Discovery Channel program.

Dean asked Schultz if he "understood that agents deal with the Endangered Species Act," according to the affidavit.

"Absolutely," it alleges he replied.

Schultz is due in court Oct. 8, according to Thom Mrozek, a U.S. attorney's office spokesman in Los Angeles.

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jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan


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