Citrus Quarantine Violators Sentenced By Court
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Samuel Santiago, Special Agent in Charge, Caribbean Area Manager, USDA APHIS Investigative & Enforcement Services, and Karen Citizen-Wilcox, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Office of Inspector General, Southeast Region, announced that Randall Linkous, 61, of Boynton Beach, Andrea Moreira, 32, of Boynton Beach, Dale Leblang, 60, of Boca Raton, and David Peskind, 57, of Boca Raton, were sentenced Friday as a result of their involvement in a conspiracy to violate the Plant Protection Act, to transport and sell quarantined citrus plants in interstate commerce, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
United States District Court Judge James I. Cohn, who had earlier accepted guilty pleas from each of the defendants to the conspiracy charge, sentenced Linkous to serve a term of probation of one year, to include a period of home confinement of six months, subject to electronic monitoring, and 100 hours of community service. Linkous is also prohibited from being involved with the sale of plants without the specific permission of the Court. Moreira also received a one year term of probation, 50 hours of community service, and a similar employment restriction. Defendants Leblang and Peskind were each ordered to serve a one year term of probation, but were not placed under a future employment restriction by the Court or ordered to perform community service, in light of their cooperation in the investigation and resolution of the case.
The matter arose in March 2011 when USDA Inspectors with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in Ohio and Illinois discovered a species of citrus plant known as Calomondin being sold from nurseries in those states. Dubbed “Operation Orange Aid” the investigation centered on the illegal transport and sale in interstate commerce of the plants. Calomondin has been under quarantine in Florida for many years as part of an effort to eradicate citrus canker. The plant is a known carrier of both Citrus Canker Disease and the Citrus Greening Disease. From 1995 through 2006, government costs to control and eradicate these diseases exceeded $1.4 billion, including over $700 million for compensation to the owners of commercial citrus groves that had to be destroyed. The Plant Protection Act, Title 7, United States Code, Section 7712 prohibits the movement of quarantined plant material in interstate commerce.
Investigation revealed that the plants had been acquired through Allied Growers, Inc., (ALLIED) in Ft. Lauderdale, a brokerage company owned and operated by defendants Dale Leblang and David Peskind. The owners admitted their awareness of the quarantine restrictions and that they had falsely labeled the plants on invoices in order to conceal their true nature and move them out of Florida. The actual grower and supplier of the plants to Allied was Valico Nurseries (Valico) of Pompano Beach, Florida, owned and operated by co-defendants Randall Linkous and his daughter Andrea Moreira. Valico’s principals were also fully cognizant of the quarantine and the illegality of their sales activities. Invoices from Valico to Allied actually established the M.O. of the operation, designating the proscribed flora as an unrestricted species which Valico did sell, but not in the size or for the price at which the suspect plants were marketed.
When Linkous and Moreira were initially interviewed by USDA investigators, they falsely stated that Valico had made no sales of the restricted plant inside the United States and made only “excepted” sales to Canada, after inspection and sealing by USDA. Investigators secured evidence from nurseries in at least seven different states confirming their purchase of approximately 252 Calomondin plants. According to the government, more than 1,650 of the quarantined plants, with a retail value exceeding $37,000, were shipped as part of the criminal conduct.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the USDA’s Smuggling Interdiction & Trade Compliance Office and the Special Agents of the USDA Office of Inspector General. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Norman O. Hemming, III.
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.