News and Press Releases

Florida Keys Marine Life Dealers Plead Guilty to Illegal Trafficking of Marine Life

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 2013

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Otha Easley, Acting Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, and David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Miami, announce that Eric P. Pedersen, 51, of Grassy Key, Florida, and Serdar Ercan, 42, formerly of Grassy Key, entered guilty pleas in Key West today for conspiring to harvest, transport, and sell marine living resources knowing the marine life were 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), and 3373(d)(1) and (2), all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

Pedersen and Ercan each face a possible sentence of up to five years in prison, a period of supervised release of up to three years, and a criminal fine of up to $250,000 in the case. United States District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez set sentencing for the two defendants for December 4, 2013 in Key West, beginning at 10:00 a.m.

According to the Indictment and Joint Factual Statements submitted to the Court, the defendants confessed that during the period extending from October 2010 through approximately February 2011, they engaged in a conspiracy to harvest and transport 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), wildlife from the Florida Keys to buyers throughout the United States and foreign countries. Their activities were conducted without the required licenses and permits mandated by Florida law, and in some instances exceeded permissible bag limits on some of the species of marine life.

According to statements in the record, the harvesting activity occurred within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, other federal Wildlife Refuges, and State waters. 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.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. Mr. Ferrer also extended his thanks to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission who assisted in the case. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes.

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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.

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