Illegal Sea Cucumber Trade Nets More than $1.2 Million Dollars in Fines, Forfeiture and Restitution
Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson (619) 546-7976
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 1, 2018
SAN DIEGO – A Tucson firm and two executives were recently sentenced to pay over $1.2 million in fines, forfeiture and restitution for the illegal trafficking in sea cucumber from 2010-2012.
In May of 2017, Blessings, Inc. of Tucson, its owner David Mayorquin, and former executive Ramon Torres Mayorquin of San Diego were charged in a 26-count indictment with conspiracy, illegal trafficking in wildlife, importation contrary to law, false labeling and criminal forfeiture related to the importation of $17 million of sea cucumber.
Blessings, Inc. pleaded guilty on March 8, 2018, admitting that the company conspired to illegally export sea cucumber to Asia. Defendant Ramon Mayorquin also pleaded guilty, acknowledging that he imported the sea cucumber into the United States from Mexico by means of documents containing false information. And, defendant David Mayorquin pleaded guilty, admitting that the sea cucumber he imported into the United States had been taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of Mexican law.
At a hearing on September 17, 2018, U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez sentenced Blessings, Inc. and David Mayorquin to pay a fine of $973,490, and directed that half of the fine be deposited in the Lacey Act Rewards Fund and the other half into the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Fund. In addition, Blessings, Inc. was ordered to forfeit $237,879 in proceeds from the offense, and David Mayorquin was ordered to pay $40,000 to the government of Mexico as restitution for the loss of its natural resources. All three defendants were placed on probation.
The Lacey Act Reward Account was established to accept any fine, penalty or forfeiture of collateral money collected for offenses involving either the Lacey Act or the Endangered Species Act in accordance with provisions of the 1981 Lacey Act Amendments. Examples of how these funds may be used include to provide monetary awards to those who provide information about wildlife crimes and to pay costs incurred in caring for fish, wildlife or plants that are being held as evidence in ongoing investigations. The Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Fund is used for rewards to those providing information that leads to enforcement action and costs related to investigations.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, there are about 1,200 species of sea cucumbers worldwide. Found on the ocean floor, sea cucumbers act as filters taking in various types of detritus, including carcasses and excrement, and expelling filtered material. This action helps keep the ocean floor free of organic matter that could lead to algae blooms. Through this process, sea cucumbers help protect coral reefs because the material they excrete includes calcium carbonate, a key building block of coral.
In many parts of the world, sea cucumbers are sought after as a delicacy and as a medicine and aphrodisiac. This has fueled demand and increased illegal trade of this species. Unfortunately, the illegal trade in sea cucumbers is leading to sharp declines of the species in parts of the world.
With increased cooperation with Mexican officials, the importation of sea cucumber from Mexico to the United States through the ports of entry in San Diego have decreased dramatically in the past four years. According to the NOAA Office of Science and Technology, Commercial Fisheries Statistics Division website, total sea cucumber imports from 2013 through 2017 into the San Diego ports of entry have decreased from 1,096,258 kg in 2013 to 63,545 kg in 2017.
“Illegal trafficking in fish and wildlife is big business,” said U.S. Attorney Adam L. Braverman. “This case demonstrates our commitment to work together with our law enforcement partners to prosecute such criminals and take away their unlawful profits.”
“Protecting marine resources and combating wildlife trafficking is an important part of NOAA's mission,” said James Landon, Director of NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement. “This case demonstrates the results of partnerships and cooperation between enforcement agencies to achieve such a strong result.”
“Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that impacts plants, animals and insects around the world,” said Edward Grace, Acting Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement. “We are committed to working with others to protect at-risk species, like sea cucumbers, and hope the sentencing in this case will send a strong message to those who choose to defy the law.”
“A large overseas demand for sea cucumbers harvested in Mexico has fueled an increase in illicit importation-schemes uncovered at commercial ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego. “This investigation underscores HSI’s commitment to ensuring U.S. trade laws are not exploited by those seeking financial gain.”
DEFENDANTS Criminal Case No. 17cr1254-BEN
Blessings, Inc Incorporated: 2003
David Mayorquin Age: 41
Ramon Torres Mayorquin Age: 77
Chula Vista, California
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Count 1 (Defendant Blessings)
Conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 371
Maximum penalty: 5 years’ prison, fine of $250,000
Count 12 (Defendant Ramon Mayorquin)
Importation Contrary to Law, 18 U.S.C. §545
Maximum Penalty: 20 years’ prison, $250,000 fine or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense, restitution, forfeiture of proceeds generated from the, five years of supervised release.
Counts 1 & 2 of Superseding Information (David Mayorquin)
Illegal Importation of Wildlife, 16 U.S.C. §3372(a)(2)(A) and §3373(d)(2)
Maximum Penalty: 1 year of prison, $100,000 fine per count
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement
Homeland Security Investigations