BAHAMIAN NATIONAL PLEADS GUILTY IN INTERNATIONAL SEAFOOD SMUGGLING OPERATION
Jeffrey H. Sloman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, H. Jeff Radonski, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Law Enforcement, Eddie McKissick, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Investigations, announced that defendant Robbie Franklin Smith, 45, of Bimini, Commonwealth of the Bahamas, pled guilty today in Fort Lauderdale District Court, on charges related to the illegal importation of quantities of queen conch and spiny lobster from the Bahamas to the United States, which had been harvested and exported in violation of Bahamian law, all contrary to the Lacey Act, Title 16 , United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(A) and Title 18 , United States Code, Section 2.
According to the allegations in the Indictment, court records, and statements in Court, in December 2005 a vessel operated by a Miami-based seafood dealer, James Hanson, was intercepted by a Coast Guard patrol vessel. During a boarding and inspection, officers found more than 1,000 pounds of undeclared spiny lobster and approximately 340 pounds of queen conch, which had been supplied to Hansen in the Bahamas by Smith. Hanson planned to land the seafood in the United States and market it through Hansen Seafood, Inc., a company which he owned. According to records in the related cases, between June and December 2005, on approximately a dozen occasions, Hanson purchased spiny lobster and conch from Smith and imported it illegally into the United States using boats owned through his companies, and employees of his companies. According to Court documents, the total fair market value of the trips exceeded $87,000.
United States District Court Judge William J. Zloch, who accepted the guilty plea from the defendant, set sentencing in this matter for April 6, 2010 at 10:00 am. On the single count to which Smith pled guilty, he faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison and a three-year period of supervised release. Smith’s associate, Hanson, was previously convicted and sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $75,000, perform 300 hours of community service, and to serve a period of three years’ probation. He was also ordered to relinquish any claim to the proceeds of the seized product, which was valued at $13,930. Additionally, Hanson was ordered to forfeit the boat used in the commission of the offense, a 2000, 37.8' fiberglass hulled sport fishing vessel, “REDEEMED.”
Statute Law of the Bahamas, Revised Edition 2000, Chapter 244 Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction & Conservation), Section 21(1)(a), prohibits the sale and export of any fishery resource from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas except under and in accordance with the terms of a license granted by the Government of the Bahamas. None of the individuals or corporations involved in this matter ever received or possessed a lawfully issued licence from the Government of the Bahamas, to export spiny lobster or queen conch.
Queen conch (Strombus gigas) is a commercially valuable seafood product, which falls within the taxonomic phylum Mollusca. Queen conch is a protected species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), 16 U.S.C. § 1533©, and is a species listed for protection since 1992 in Appendix II of an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ( “CITES”). A purpose of CITES is to monitor and restrict trade in certain species of fish, wildlife, and plants to protect them from commercial exploitation that might diminish the ability of the species to survive in the wild. More than 170 countries cooperate in the enforcement of the provisions of CITES, including the United States and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, by implementing domestic laws to effectuate its underlying goals.
CITES classifies protected species in its Appendices. Appendix II includes all species “which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.” Accordingly, the importation of queen conch, alive or dead, and its parts and derivatives, is subject to the requirements of CITES, the ESA, and the regulations thereto. To engage in trade in queen conch, all imports or exports must be accompanied by a CITES export certificate from the country of origin, or a re-export permit from a country of re-export.
Mr. Sloman expressed his appreciation for the assistance provided in this matter by the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, Department of Marine Resources, of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, and commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the NOAA Office For Law Enforcement, U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and ICE’s Office of Investigations in Miami, which brought the investigation to a successful conclusion. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys 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.