Florida Dealer Enters Guilty Plea to Illegally Trafficking in Marine Life
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Ed Grace, Deputy Associate Director, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Office of Law Enforcement, and Tracey Dunn, Assistant Director, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, announce that Curtis W. Waters, 53, of Weeki Wachee, Florida, pled guilty today in U.S. District Court in Key West for engaging in conduct that involved the sale and purchase of, and intent to sell and purchase, wildlife with a market value in excess of $350.00, that is, approximately 150 specimens of Ricordea florida, and did knowingly sell said wildlife in interstate commerce, knowing it was taken, possessed, transported, and sold in violation of and in a manner unlawful under the laws of the State of Florida, specifically, Florida Statute Section 379.361(2)(f), in violation of the Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(B), and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2.
Waters entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow, who was assigned to conduct the hearing by U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King. Magistrate Judge Snow announced that she would issue a Report and Recommendation to Judge King urging the acceptance of the guilty plea and the adjudication of the defendant.
According to the allegations of the Information filed against him, and a Joint Factual Statement submitted by the parties, at the relevant times, Waters was a resident of Hernando County, Florida, and the holder of a Saltwater Products License (SPL) issued by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC). The SPL authorized him, among other things, to harvest live Ricordea florida, a corallimorph species native to the salt water reefs of South Florida.
In August 2013, Waters called an individual in Colorado and advised the individual that Waters would be in the Florida Keys collecting marine specimens and offering to sell “more” Ricordea florida. At the direction of FWS agents, the cooperator ordered 150 ricordea. Waters advised he planned to ship the ricordea by September 3, 2013, at a price of $4.00 each.
Based on surveillance and information provided by witnesses, the investigating agents determined that in order to conduct the harvest of ricordea, Waters employed a white, 16’ open, center-console Boston Whaler, FL1900AK, which he towed from his residence to the Keys.
On September 2, 2013, Waters called the buyer, confirming the order of 150 ricordea would be sent via Federal Express. On September 4, the package of ricordea from Waters was delivered to the Colorado address. Included in the shipment was an invoice for 150 ricordea at $4.00 each, for a total of $600.00, and a pre-completed bank deposit slip for Waters’ bank account for a deposit of $600.00. FWS Agents deposited $600.00 cash into the bank account associated with the deposit slip.
Waters is scheduled to be sentenced on March 10, 2015 at 1:30 p.m. Waters faces a possible sentence of up to 5 years imprisonment, a term of supervised release of up to three years, and a criminal fine of up to $250,000. He also faces forfeiture of the vessel, engine, trailer, tackle, and gear used in the commission of the Lacey Act violation.
Mr. Ferrer commended the joint investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the FWS Office of Law Enforcement and the NOAA 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. This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes.
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.