Man pleads guilty to smuggling illegal amphibians into U.S. 

The Tahoe City man has agreed to a plea deal in the case.

A Tahoe City man pleaded guilty on Monday to smuggling injurious amphibians into the United States. 

The big picture: Court documents state that Andrew Laughlin, 47, acted as a middleman in an international amphibian smuggling ring. 


  • Laughlin admitted to an undercover agent that he participated in the ring in order to acquire hard-to-find newts. 
  • He shipped or received at least four packages of amphibians, which included packages to or from people located in Hong Kong and Sweden. 
  • The packages were falsely labeled as items such as “toy car,” “rubber toys” or “a ceramic art piece.” 
  • The boxes actually contained live animals, including Eastern Box turtles, spotted turtles, fire belly newts, Asian warty newts and newts native to California. 

Go deeper: Some of the amphibians are prohibited from being imported into the country because they could harm ecosystems and natural resources of the United States. 

  • Authorities executed a search warrant at Laughlin’s residence and found 81 live newts of various species. 
  • Some of the newts tested positive for Bd, which is a virulent fungi that originated in Asia and is spread through the illegal pet trade. 
  • The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that scientists estimate that Bd has caused significant declines in the populations of over 500 species, with over 90 of them presumed to be extinct. 

What we’re watching: Laughlin is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 7. 

  • Per the plea deal, Laughlin has agreed to pay restitution for the costs of caring for and testing the seized newts and to undertake a voluntary public education campaign at his kayaking store about the harms of illegal amphibian trafficking. 
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