Florida Dealer Sentenced for Illegally Trafficking in Marine Life
Wilfredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Miami Area Office of Law Enforcement, Thomas Tidwell, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Denver Area Office of Law Enforcement, FWS, and Tracy Dunn, Assistant Director, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, announced that Curtis W. Waters, 58, of Weeki Wachee, Florida, was sentenced 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.
U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King sentenced Waters to three months home confinement and a three year period of probation, but did not impose a fine after determining that Waters did not possess the resources to pay a criminal assessment. As a further consequence of his federal conviction, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission revoked all of Waters’ remaining licenses, and prohibited his transfer of the valuable “Marine Life Dive” endorsement he had held during the period of the criminal conduct.
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), which authorized him, among other things, to harvest live Ricordea florida, a corallimorph species native to the salt water reefs of South Florida.
The representative charge in the case noted that in August 2013, Waters called an individual in Colorado, with whom he had prior business dealings, stating that Waters would be in the Florida Keys shortly 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 for the ricordea.
Through surveillance and information provided by witnesses, the investigating agents determined that in order to conduct the harvest of Ricordea florida, Waters towed a boat from his residence to the Keys. The Joint Factual Statement further stated that on September 2, 2013, Waters called the buyer, confirming the order of 150 ricordea would be sent via Fed-Ex the following day. On September 4 a package from Waters was delivered via Fed-Ex 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’s bank account for a deposit of $600.00. FWS Agents deposited $600.00 cash into the bank account associated with the deposit slip. Further evidence in the case established that during the relevant period, Waters illegally sold approximately 2,600 of the ricordea to a number of out-of-state buyers.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 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 was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes.