Gardena Man Convicted of Attempting to Smuggle Protected Coral Species from the United States to Mexico
LOS ANGELES – A Gardena man was found guilty by a jury today of federal criminal charges that he attempted to smuggle live corals that are protected by an international treaty known as the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Jose Torres, 44, was found guilty of one count of attempting to illegally export wildlife, and two counts of making and submitting a false record for wildlife intended to be exported.
According to the evidence presented at his three-day trial, in January 2013, a Mexican company named Gabriela Herlinda Medina asked to purchase fish and coral from Torres, who identified himself as the owner of the company Orca International. Medina decided that it did not want to wait for the CITES permits and requested that the coral be shipped immediately. On January 31, 2013, Torres attempted to ship the coral without the CITES permit. Reef-building coral are protected under CITES because of their importance to ocean ecosystems and their vulnerability.
In furtherance of his scheme, Torres visited the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service district office in Torrance on January 31, 2013. During that visit, Torres made a false declaration that he was shipping 16 cartons of fish. In reality, Torres personally packed 40 boxes for shipment and he knew they contained protected coral.
That night, Torres went to Los Angeles International Airport and provided to AeroMexico the false paperwork and 40 cartons to be transported to Mexico. Fish and Wildlife Service officials inspected the cartons and seized 474 undeclared items, including many CITES-protected coral.
United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II has scheduled a February 10 sentencing hearing, at which time Torres will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service investigated this case, which was charged as part of Operation Jungle Book, a law enforcement initiative that targeted wildlife smuggling.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Erik M. Silber of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section and David R. Friedman of the General Crimes Section.