Palm Beach County Resident Pleads Guilty to Importing Illegal Catch from the Bahamas
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Alysa D. Erichs, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), Miami Field Office, Otha Easley, Acting Special Agent in Charge, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), Southeast Division, Major Jeff Hubert, Regional Commander, South A Region, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and Randy Donnelson, Director of Air Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), announced that Robert Fortunato, 55, of Palm Beach County, pled guilty earlier today before U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas to one count of conspiracy, in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 371, and one count of importing and attempting to import into the United States, fish and wildlife possessed and transported, in violation of the laws of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, in violation of the Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3371(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(A). As part of his guilty plea, Fortunato agreed to forfeit approximately 1500 pounds of queen conch and a 26" Mako vessel. Sentencing has been scheduled for June 5, 2012, at 1:15 p.m.
According to the indictment, filed documents, and statements made in court during the plea hearing, on February 6, 2012, Fortunato attempted to import queen conch (Strombus gigus) in violation of the possession limits established in the laws and regulations of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, specifically, the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction & Conservation) Regulations, Part X, Sections 47(1)(a), (b) and 48(1)(f), and Part XV, Section 70(1).
This prosecution was the result of the efforts of a multi-agency law enforcement team, including NOAA Special Agents, U.S. Coast Guard, CBP, ICE-HSI, and FWC. Mr. Ferrer noted that agents with the Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine initiated the case by identifying, tracking and intercepting the vessel. Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of all agencies involved. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Norman O. Hemming, III and Antonia Barnes.
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.