Florida Marine Life Dealers Sentenced for Illegal Wildlife Trafficking
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, announce that Eric Pedersen, 51, and Serdan Ercan, 43, both formerly of Grassy Key, were sentenced today in federal District Court in Key West for conspiring to harvest, transport, and sell wildlife, including Live Rock and attached invertebrates, sea fans, bonnethead sharks, lemon sharks, and nurse sharks, with a fair market value in excess of $350.00, 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), (a)(4), 3373(d)(1) and (2), and Title 18, United States Code, Section 554, all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
Pedersen was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez to 24 months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release and ordered to pay a fine of $10,000. Additionally, Pedersen was barred by the Court from any employment during his supervised release that involves the possession, display, transportation, exhibition, purchase, or sale of wildlife. Pedersen was also the subject of an Order of Forfeiture which forfeited the vessel used in perpetrating the illegal harvesting activities. Ercan received a sentence of one year and a day in prison, followed by one year of supervised release and a fine of $6,000.
According to the Indictment, Joint Factual Statements submitted to the Court, and arguments at sentencing, from approximately March 2012 through November 2012, Pedersen and Ercan engaged in a conspiracy to illegally harvest and market marine life from the Florida Keys to wholesalers throughout the United States and abroad through a business located on Grassy Key known as Key Marine, Inc. At the time of the offenses charged, Pedersen was Vice President and Ercan was Secretary of Key Marine. In addition to ornamental fish, the wildlife included Live Rock, Ricordea florida, sea fans, and several species of sharks, which were subject to specific required Florida licensing requirements and bag limits which the participants in the harvesting and sales operations ignored. According to the Factual Statements, Pedersen and Ercan were aware of the requirements of the law, and took actions to conceal the scope and nature of their activities from authorities. Unknown to Pedersen and Ercan, federal agents had begun to monitor their harvest and sales activities, including covertly recording harvest operations and marking illegally acquired products to trace them through their interstate sales. Key Marine, Inc. was dissolved in the wake of the federal prosecution.
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 Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission who assisted the federal investigation. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney?s Office for the District of Idaho.
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.