New York Marine Life Dealer Convicted and Sentenced for Illegal Wildlife Trafficking
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Edward Grace, Deputy Assistant Director, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, and Tracy A. Dunn, Special Agent in Charge, SAC Southeast Regional Office, NOAA, announce that Jonathan M. Hale, 30, of Patchogue, New York, pled guilty and was sentenced for transporting, possessing, and selling live rock bearing specimens of Ricordea florida in interstate commerce, with a fair market value in excess of $350.00, knowing the marine life was taken, possessed, transported, sold, and intended to be sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida, contrary to the federal Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A), (a)(4), 3373(d)(1)(B), and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2.
The defendant entered his guilty plea to the single charge before U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, who after accepting the guilty plea imposed sentence on the defendant. Hale was sentenced to a term of probation of two years and a criminal fine of $10,000.
According to the indictment, joint factual statements submitted to the Court, and statements in court, at the relevant times, Hale was Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Country Critters of Long Island, Inc., located in Patchogue, New York. Country Critters of Long Island, Inc. was a retail business engaged in the sale of various species of wildlife, including mammals, reptiles, and fish.
In September 2012, at Marathon Shores, Florida, the defendant met with a marine life supplier and discussed pricing of various marine life species, including Ricordea florida, tarpon, and sharks. The defendant then placed an order for 100 ricordea, on rock.
In early October 2012, in a telephone conversation from Marathon Shores to the defendant in Patchogue, New York, the supplier advised he had acquired the requested marine life near Key West, and secured defendant’s promise to keep the source of the ricordea secret because it was illegal to harvest them in that area.
Thereafter, a shipment including six live rocks (Scleractinia) bearing approximately 111 specimens of Ricordea florida was shipped in interstate commerce from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to New York, consigned to “Country Critters-Jonathan Hale” and invoiced for wholesale in the amount of $444.00. Payment for the shipment was made by Jonathon Hale by credit card, to the marine life supplier. The retail fair market value of the ricordea exceeded $2,200.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, and NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement who participated in the long-term investigation into the illegal harvesting and sale of marine life resources from the Florida Keys known as Operation Rock Bottom. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.