Monroe County Residents Charged For Illegal Harvest and Sale of Marine Life
Wifredo A, Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Otha Easley, Acting Special Agent in Charge for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division, and David G. Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Office of Law Enforcement, announced the filing of criminal charges against Key Marine, Inc., a Florida corporation with its principal place of business on Grassy Key, Eric P. Pedersen, 51, and Serdar Ercan, 42, both residents of Monroe County, Florida. The single-count Information alleges that the three defendants engaged in a conspiracy to take, harvest, capture, transport, and sell various species of marine wildlife harvested from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) and State waters, for commercial sale and distribution in interstate and foreign commerce to their financial gain, in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida, and the federal Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(1),(a)(2)(A), and (4), and 3373(d)(1), all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. Initial court appearances on the charges have not yet been set.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez. If convicted on the charge, Key Marine, Inc. faces a possible fine of $500,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss arising from the relevant conduct. Defendants Pedersen and Ercan each face a statutory maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.
According to the Information, from October 2010 through February 2011, the defendants engaged in the day to day business of collecting, exporting, and selling in interstate and foreign commerce various species of marine life, including Live Rock and attached invertebrates, specifically Ricordia florida, sea fans (Gorgonia species); bonnethead sharks (Sphyma tiburo); lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris); and nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum), with market values in excess of $350.00, knowing that the marine life was taken and intended to be sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida. The Information further charges that the defendants exceeded the legal limit on the harvest of Ricordia florida as part of their illicit harvesting activities.
Pursuant to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act and the National Marine Sanctuary Act, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration issued final regulations in January 1997 to govern the conduct of activities within the sanctuary. Title 15, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 922.163(a)(2) prohibits the removal of, injury to, or possession of coral or live rock. Section 922.163(a)(2)(I) prohibits moving, removing, taking, harvesting, damaging, disturbing, breaking, cutting, or otherwise injuring any living or dead coral or coral formation, or attempting any of these activities.
Florida Administrative Code, Section 68B-42.008, prohibits the harvest of live rock. Florida Statue 370.07 requires that a person who sells salt water marine related wildlife such as Ricordia florida, to hold a State wholesale and retail license. The federal Lacey Act, among other things, makes it unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce, any fish or wildlife, taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any State. 16 U.S.C. §3372(a)(2)(A). According to the allegations in this case, the defendants were not authorized by any competent authority to harvest or attempt to harvest any Live Rock from the FKNMS or State waters during the time period relevant to this Information, nor did they hold the marine-related wholesale and retail permits required by Florida Statute 370.07.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents of NOAA-OLE and FWS-OLE in this case. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
An Information is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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.