Those in the herp hobby in Utah are familiar with Stone Reptiles in Lindon, and most who know Jeremy Stone is range from disappointment in the local snake breeders to outrage that Jeremy and his sister, Keri Ann, would be the victims of what some are calling an outright frame up, others a government conspiracy. And while the snake breeders are accused of smuggling the rare leucistic boa constrictor (a stunning male named Princess Diamond) through false records and other mendacious means, it may be some time before the truth of the story comes to light, if ever.
Local snake breeder making unfortunate national news
According to ABC News, back in October, federal prosecutors in Brazil brought charges of fraud, theft and trafficking of a wild animal against two Brazilian employees of the Niteroi Zoo, along with Jeremy Stone and his sister, according to court documents available on the prosecutor's website. Then, yesterday on Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted Jeremy Stone, 39, of Lindon, and his sister, Keri Ann Stone, 34, of Midvale, with 4 counts related to importing the snake and falsely documenting the import, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The Stones are accused of buying the white leucistic boa constrictor from the zoo in Rio de Janeiro, for thousands of dollars in 2009. The prosecution claims that Jeremy Stone knew the boa was caught in the wild and forbidden from export by Brazilian law, and so devised a way to falsify records and transport from Guyana, which is bordered by Brazil to the south and southwest, and from which it is legal to purchase wild caught snakes.
Serpent-loving siblings in big trouble
The charges are quite serious. Besides losing Princess Diamond, which is a crucial part of the businesses' breeding project, much more is at stake than the pets or money. According to KSL.com, the brother-sister pair are charged with "conspiracy to unlawfully import the snake into the United States; unlawfully importing the snake into the country; transporting the snake knowing it was imported contrary to law; and making and submitting false records for wildlife imported into the United States. The maximum penalty for the conspiracy count is five years in prison. The potential penalty for importing merchandise contrary to law is 20 years, and submitting false information on a Fish and Wildlife form carries a penalty of five years in prison."
Brazilian officials told their local press last year that they had asked that the snake and all its offspring be returned to the country. Jeremy and Keri Stone are set to make their initial court appearances February 11th in federal court in Salt Lake.
Accused, but are they guilty?
The Stones are considered well-respected in the exotics community and not all hearing the allegations believe that Jeremy and his sister deserve the condemnation. Some believe the pair is simply in the middle of a misunderstanding caused by the confusing process of importation of foreign exotics. Others believe that something more akin to a government conspiracy (either for money or to help in an animal rights agenda) may be afoot. Others don't know what happened, but don't believe the Stone family capable of that level of deceit.
Ryan H. posted this KSL public comment:
"...While I leave completely open the option that what is alleged is true, I also take every bit of it with a grain of salt until it has all been adjudicated. The state and fed folks involved in investigating these types of illegal activities are 'interesting folks'. I've personally witnessed them feeding the press with all sorts of information, including blatant lies, in order to justify their activities, and demean the accused. Does no one else find it interesting how many specific details are put out there for the press to have? We frequently see MUCH more serious cases (Powell, etc) where police/investigators/prosecutors give out FAR less information. Yet, when you have an alleged CITES/import issue that impacts one specimen, all of the alleged details are pasted across the press. Something doesn't smell right with the blatant dichotomy of treatment. If the authorities involved cared more about justice than promoting their work, then they we wouldn't be having so much detail at this point. If it is about making a point and example, then wait until after conviction â€“ the point and example will be all the stronger then.
I belabor the point about how much information was given precisely because I have observed it so grossly abused in multiple other situations. People have committed suicide as a result of the way that these cases are tried in the press before a person can even contact a defense attorney.
I also question the timing. What brought this to light now, not when it occurred? If the Feds were involved as it went down, and had first-hand information, then I suspect enforcement would have been far more timely. That this is coming out now makes me wonder if someone has been acting as informant, and feeding LE the info. Believe it or not, there are some really petty jealous individuals in the reptile community that are all to willing to patently LIE in order to get in good favor with LE, or to cause their competitors in trouble.
Let's take the information for what it is - allegations. LE will lie and aggrandize stories just like many other humans will. Let's wait and see what the real situation is when both parties have a chance to tell their story, and provide EVIDENCE in court to be evaluated."
Even among those that are not familiar with the reptile business, the Stone family has many supporters. Many are impressed with the bravery, and creativity, of Jeremy's 14 year old son, Jackson, a double amputee who made news last year with his unique prosthetic legs... made to look like snakes!
Jeremy Stone himself maintains their innocence, releasing this statement on Facebook and on their website, BoaConstrictor.com:
"To all my clients past present and future:
I would first like to say that I appreciate your support in these difficult times. Stone Reptiles will continue to do business as usual and I will service my clientele with the same degree of attention and efficiency as I have done in the past. I have retained counsel, Larry M. Bakman, to contest the charges filed against me by the government. It goes without saying that I deny the allegations and I will dispute the same in a court of law. I have been instructed by counsel not to discuss the facts of the case on either the web or in the media. I can say that I look forward to disproving the government's allegations in trial and ask that my supporters and the reptile community in general exercise patience in forming a premature judgment until such time as my case can be presented in Court.
Thank you, Jeremy Stone"
Our thoughts are with all involved, and hope that the truth is found and justice done, whatever the truth may be.