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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

Monday, July 7, 2014

Venezuelan Wildlife Dealer Charged With Illegally Trafficking In Marine Life

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Office of Law Enforcement, announce that Oscar H. Cordova-Cobian, 42, of Caracas, Venezuela, was arraigned today in Miami on charges he exported, and attempted to export, fish and wildlife, that is, specimens of regulated live corals, live rock, clams, and other marine invertebrates, knowing that said fish and wildlife were possessed, transported, and sold in violation of and in a manner unlawful under the laws, treaties, and regulations of the United States, all in violation of 16 U.S.C. '' 3372(a)(1), (a)(4), and 3373(d)(1)(A).

If convicted, Cordova-Cobian faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison, 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 wildlife involved in the commission of the Lacey Act violations.

According to statements in the information and other court records, Cordova-Cobian is a resident of Caracas, Venezuela and operates and maintains a website through which he engages in the commercial sale of marine life, including ornamental fish and corals.

In order to protect certain species of fish and wildlife against over-exploitation, the United States is a party to an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, T.I.A.S. 8249, (hereinafter “CITES”). Species are listed by CITES in Appendices, each of which provides a different level of protection. CITES regulates trade in the listed species through a system of permits and certificates (CITES documents), in order to monitor the effects of trade to ensure trade is legal and not detrimental to the survival of the species. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction that are or may be affected by trade and such trade may take place only in exceptional circumstances. Appendix II includes species that are not presently threatened with extinction, but may become so if their trade is not regulated. CITES, Art. II. Congress has implemented CITES in the United States through the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. '' 1531-1544. The FWS as the CITES enforcement authority within the United States has published regulations to implement CITES. A list of all the species protected by CITES, the Endangered Species Act, and the FWS regulations is maintained by the CITES Secretariat. 50 C.F.R. § 23.7 and § 23.91.

The information alleges that in mid-May 2014, at Miami International Airport, Cordova-Cobian attempted to export, fish and wildlife, that is, approximately 136 specimens, including CITES App. II regulated live corals, CITES App. II regulated live rock (Scleractinia sp.), CITES App. II regulated clams (Tridacna sp.), and other marine invertebrates, in his checked baggage, for commercial sale to customers in Venezuela.

At no time did Cordova-Cobian apply for or obtain a CITES permit issued by the FWS for the export of CITES Appendix II wildlife from the United States or file a Declaration for the Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife (Form 3-177) with FWS as required by law.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of FWS Office of Law Enforcement, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air Marine Branch. This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes.

An information is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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.

Updated March 12, 2015