An Elkhart man says all he was trying to do was share his love for turtles.
But now he could face criminal charges for the illegal sale of the animals, after 57 of them were found in his home.
The DNR began investigating 45-year old Rick Bancroft back in June, after conservation officers saw him selling turtles at a swap meet in Noble County.
Their investigation lasted clear into last week, when they finally got a search warrant for his home.
The DNR seized the 57 turtles of various sizes and species found in the raid on Monday.
During the 6-month investigation, officers attempted to buy turtles from Bancroft, at swap meets and at his Elkhart home.
“We sent in some undercover officers and that's when some of the illegal acts allegedly began to occur some of the turtles were offered for sale and purchased,” said Indiana Conservation Officer Rodney Clear.
But Bancroft says it's all just a misunderstanding.
“Here I thought I was doing a good thing and come to find out I was breaking the law,” Bancroft said.
Bancroft was out of town at a meeting Wednesday, but spoke with WNDU over the phone.
He says it was just a hobby that turned into a side-project. He says he’s been raising turtles for about 17 years, and he really only started buying and selling turtles just in the past year.
He actually made up a business card the endeavor, and listed his title as “Turtle and Tortoise Locater.” He says people would come to him looking for specific types of turtles, and he would help find them; often by purchasing them over the internet.
He says he had no idea it was illegal.
“According to the DNR, when I spoke with them, they said that last year the law had changed in regard to; any turtle that is found in Indiana is illegal to have. I was unaware of the law,” Bancroft said.
Bancroft says he made very little money off of the endeavor, and whatever profit he made went back right in to caring for the turtles he was selling, as well as the turtles he kept as pets.
Regardless, he could face misdemeanor charges for the illegal sales.
“The main thing is the protection of some of our species that are native here in Indiana. Some of these species are endangered,” Clear said.
But both sides say there's an important lesson to be learned.
“I would say for anybody to really research the particular type of turtle or tortoise that they're looking for and make sure that they’re able to have it in Indiana,” Bancroft said.
“It's very important anytime you get involved in any type of purchase especially with our fish and wildlife that you check the laws first. If you're uncertain at that time then you know, feel free to contact the nearest conservation officers’ headquarters and talk to the officers there to see what kind of laws apply before you do make a purchase,” Clear said.
The DNR says it's ultimately up to the county prosecutors in Elkhart and Noble Counties as to whether they want to go through with the charges, which can be as serious as class A or class C misdemeanors.
The turtles seized from Bancroft’s home have been turned over to licensed turtle rehabilitators across the state.
The DNR also says the public can help them with illegal animal sale investigations by calling in tips to 1-800-TIP-IDNR.