"Animal Planet" Host Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Lizards - New York News

"Animal Planet" Host Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Lizards

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(FOX/CNS)  A globe-trotting Los Angeles-based herpetologist who hosted an "Animal Planet" series pleaded guilty today to a federal charge of offering to sell two endangered Iranian desert monitor lizards without a permit to an undercover agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Donald Schultz, who introduced the television channel's now-canceled "Wild Recon" and once spent 10 days in a glass box on the Las Vegas strip with a mass of venomous snakes for the "Venom in Vegas" show, admitted violating the Endangered Species Act.

"What's nice here is that there weren't any casualties," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Bettinelli said outside court. "It's always a worry when dealing with endangered species. These lizards were flown across the country and survived."

Schultz, 36, is expected to be sentenced Jan. 28 to a two-year probationary term, including 200 hours of community service. Prosecutors have also proposed a $6,000 fine and restitution of up to $3,000 for veterinary care of the reptiles.

Schultz offered to sell the rare lizards, via Facebook, in July 2010, asking $3,000 for the pair, according to Bettinelli.

An undercover Fish and Wildlife agent responded to the ad, saying he had a buyer in New York and asked if the price was flexible. Schultz answered that he could "do them for $2,500," according to an affidavit signed by Lisa C. Nichols, a senior special Fish and Wildlife agent.

A day later, the undercover agent went to Schultz's Inglewood home and paid him $2,500 in cash for the two monitors, plus $100 for shipping, according to Nichols. The next day, the lizards were shipped from Los Angeles to a second undercover agent in Buffalo, N.Y.

At the time of the sting, Schultz and his MFEZI website had been under investigation for suspected illegal importation of wildlife since 2006, when a package of smuggled lizards arrived in New York from South Africa addressed to Schultz at his then-home in Oceanside, Nichols wrote.

An episode of "Wild Recon" shot in Jordan in 2010 shows Schultz handling an Iranian desert monitor, which he described as "really endangered and highly protected" and the "Holy Grail" of desert lizards, according to Nichols.

Bettinelli said the sale of endangered animals is problematic because it increases global demand for the creatures.

"We don't want our country to be a destination in this illegal business and we don't want the Internet used for this," she said.

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