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Seized red-eared slider turtles are displayed by customs officials at the Anna international airport in the southern Indian city of Chennai September 13, 2006. A Canadian man allegedly caught with 51 live turtles stuffed down his pants as he tried to re-enter Canada from the U.S. was denied bail in Detroit on Friday.BABU/Reuters

A Canadian man caught with dozens of turtles in his pants has pleaded guilty to smuggling in a federal court in Michigan.

Kai Xu has pleaded guilty to smuggling or attempting to smuggle more than 1,000 turtles from the southeastern area of the state.

He was caught last year at a border crossing with 51 snappers taped to his body.

The 27-year-old would order turtles online, travel to the U.S. to pick them up and then ship them to China or return with them to Ontario.

He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison after his guilty plea Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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

Xu "regularly deals in turtle shipments worth $30,000, $80,000 or $125,000," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said in a court filing. "In China, the turtles he smuggles are worth two to three times the amount he pays here."

Defence attorney Matt Borgula declined to comment after the guilty plea.

Xu has been in custody since his arrest. He describes himself as an engineering student at the University of Waterloo, although the university said he wasn't enrolled at the time of his arrest.

According to American court documents, officers with the Canada Border Services Agency intercepted Xu last August as he attempted to cross into Windsor, Ont., from Detroit.

Xu was found to have 41 live turtles strapped to his legs and 10 hidden between his legs, according to an affidavit from a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which outlined the criminal complaint.

Canadian authorities seized the turtles, which included North American varieties such as eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders and diamondback terrapins — some of which sell for $800 each — and turned them over to American officials.

The investigation had started after a courier company in Detroit tipped the wildlife service to a package that had been shipped from Alabama addressed to Xu.

According to the court documents, agents watched as Xu allegedly opened various boxes in the rear of his SUV, took out several round clear plastic containers, and placed their contents into plastic baggies. He also had packaging tape and scissors.

"Special Agent (James) Fuller noticed irregularly shaped bulges under Xu's sweatpants on both his legs," the document states.

Xu then drove toward Windsor, where he was stopped and the turtles found during a secondary inspection.

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