ANN ARBOR (WWJ/AP) – A Canadian man who repeatedly entered Michigan to buy and ship thousands of turtles to his native China has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison for smuggling.

It’s a tough punishment for Kai Xu, who has been locked up for 19 months since his arrest and had hoped to be released. The 27-year-old has said he was partly trying to make money for college. Xu apologized Tuesday for his “greed.”

The government says Xu, then a student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, shipped turtles to China from Canada and the U.S., or hired someone to fly to China with turtles in their luggage.

In 2014, he was caught at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel with 51 turtles taped to his legs. Officials said the attempted smuggling was connected to another in which a number of turtles were found stuffed into rubber snow boots and cereal boxes inside a Canadian man’s luggage at Detroit Metro Airport.

The Detroit Zoo later took in the smuggled turtles.

It’s illegal to export wildlife from the U.S. without a license from the government.

Xu was facing a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

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