Michigan Aquarium Store Operators Plead Guilty to Illegal Trafficking of Marine Life
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 Edward Grace, Deputy Assistant Director, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, announced that Richard Perrin, 80, formerly of Romulus, Michigan, pled guilty yesterday in federal District Court in Key West for conspiring with others to transport, sell, receive, acquire, and purchase fish and wildlife, Sea Fans (Gorgonia flabellum and Gorgonia ventalina), ornamental tropical fish, sharks, and alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), with a fair market value in excess of $350.00, knowing the wildlife was taken, possessed, transported, sold, and intended to be sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida, in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A), 3372(a)(4), and 3373(d)(1) and (2), all in violation of Title 18,United States Code, Section 371.
United States District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez, who accepted Perrin’s plea, set sentencing in the matter for March 25, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. in Key West. Perrin faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a criminal fine of up to $250,000. He also faces forfeiture of the vehicle used in the commission of the Lacey Act Violations. Perrin’s co-defendant, Joseph Franko, 35, also of Romulus, entered a guilty plea to the same charge on November 25, 2013 and faces the same possible sentence and fine.
According to the Indictment and Joint Factual Statements submitted to the Court, from approximately December 2008 through December 2011, Perrin and Franko engaged in a conspiracy to purchase, harvest, and transport marine life and reptiles from Florida to Michigan for sale through a business known as Tropicorium, Inc. Perrin was the owner Tropicorium, engaged in the day-to-day management and operation of the corporation, while Franko was an employee. Tropicorium was organized in 1993 under the laws of Michigan with its principal place of business in Romulus. Tropicorium was engaged in the purchase and retail sale of marine life and reptiles, including sharks, marine invertebrates, Sea Fans, ornamental tropical fish, and alligators.
The defendants admitted that they failed to acquire or possess the licenses required by Florida Statute for the marine life they harvested during multiple trips to the Florida Keys. Additionally, the Sea Fans taken by the defendants and sold in Michigan are prohibited from being harvested from the waters of the State or the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, where they plied their trade. Richard Perrin and Franko also made stops while en route to the Keys in the area of Big Cypress National Preserve, where they illegally poached juvenile alligators to sell through Tropicorium. Unknown to the defendants, on one occasion they actually sold a baby alligator and illegal Sea Fans from a Florida harvesting trip to an undercover Special Agent of the Fish & Wildlife Service. They also utilized a facility on Grassy Key as maintenance base for their harvested marine life until they were ready to ship or transport the specimens to Michigan for sale.
Mr. Ferrer commended the joint investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and the Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement who participated in the long-term investigation into the illegal harvesting and sale of marine life resources from the Florida Keys known as Operation Rock Bottom, and the assistance of the Officers of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald of the Economic & Environmental Crimes Section and Antonia Barnes of the Asset Forfeiture Division.
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.