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Jersey reporter turns to turtle poaching, gets six months in clink

2019-08-30

David Sommers, an ex-Trentonian staffer, began taking thousands of protected diamond terrapins and their eggs from New Jersey’s coastal marshes in 2011 and kept up his enterprise until 2017, according to federal prosecutors. He sold the turtles, which were classified as threatened in 2013, over the internet. (Facebook)

It really is tough in the news biz these days.

A former newspaper reporter who turned to poaching turtles in the wilds of New Jersey was sentenced to six months behind bars by federal prosecutors this week.

David Sommers, an ex-Trentonian staffer, began taking thousands of protected diamond terrapins and their eggs from New Jersey’s coastal marshes in 2011 and kept up his enterprise until 2017, according to federal prosecutors.

He sold the turtles, which were classified as threatened in 2013, over the internet.

“The defendant had a simple business plan: poach protected turtles and their eggs from their natural habitat, advertise them for sale online and then illegally ship them to customers by concealing the actual contents of the packages,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in a written statement.

Sommers pleaded guilty in February to intentionally mislabeling packages with turtles in them.

McSwain announced Thursday that, in addition to six months imprisonment, Sommers would also have to serve three years’ supervised release and pay out $250,000 in restitution under the terms of his sentencing.

Sommers lawyer Steven Jones did not immediately return a call.

Former Trentonian colleague, veteran columnist L.A. Parker, described Sommers as a hard-working “hard-nosed tabloid reporter,” who knocked doors and pounded the spavement relentlessly in pursuit of a good scoop.

“He lived in that grey area of life and dealt with people who weren’t entirely trustworthy,” Parker said. “When I read the story, I just kind of laughed about it because that sounded like Dave Sommers. Not some Bonnie and Clyde guy, but someone who turned to that other side of life."

Despite the punishment he’s facing, Parker said he thinks Sommers will emerge from the turtle scandal on top.

“He’ll turn it into a book about himself,” he said with a chuckle.