7 October 2004 LAWFUEL – Law news, attorney, criminal law, law firm, legal newsMarcos Daniel Jiménez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Thomas Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General, for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, announced today that defendant, George Norris, a resident of Spring, Texas, was sentenced to seventeen (17) months’ imprisonment and two (2) years of supervised release at a hearing in Miami, Florida, Federal District Court today in connection with a conspiracy to smuggle into the United States protected orchid specimens, including specimens of the genus Phragmipedium, commonly known as Tropical lady’s slipper orchids. All species of orchid are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty to which the United States and Peru, along with over 160 other nations, are parties. The United States implements CITES through the Endangered Species Act. Norris previously pleaded guilty to seven (7) criminal charges related to the smuggling of orchid specimens into the United States for sale and admitted to a forfeiture provision in the Indictment which asserts that the orchids or their substitute value is properly forfeitable as part of the action.
United States District Judge Patricia Seitz, who imposed sentence in the case found that Norris was unable to pay a fine, which under the charges could have been the greater of $250,000 or twice the gain or loss from his relevant conduct, for each of the seven Counts. Norris’ co-defendant, Manuel Arias Silva of Lima, Peru, previously entered guilty pleas to two counts of the Indictment and received a sentence of twenty-one (21) months’ imprisonment, three (3) years supervised release and a $5,000 fine.
According to the indictment and statements in Court, Arias made multiple shipments of orchids to his co-conspirator, Norris in Spring, Texas, between January of 1999 and October of 2003. Arias would obtain a CITES permit for the shipments from Peruvian authorities, with whom he had a long-standing relationship, authorizing the export of certain numbers of artificially-propagated specimens of particular species of orchids. Arias would then ship specimens of orchids not included on the CITES permit. Norris and Arias admitted in their pleas that to conceal the illegal activity they would falsely label the protected species as a species included on the permit. Arias would provide Norris a code or “key” that would provide a means for deciphering the false labels and identifying the true species of the orchids. One shipment in February of 2003 included some 1,145 specimens, of which approximately 490 were of species not authorized for export by the accompanying CITES permit. Norris and Arias admitted by pleading guilty that they used invalid permits for the shipments and falsely labeled many of the plants to cover up the lack of a valid permit. Three of the shipments mentioned in Court were valued at more than $45,000, based on the actual sales records seized during the search of Norris’ business in Texas.
Mr. Jiménez commended the investigative efforts of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection Service, and the Department of Agriculture. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald and the Environmental Crimes and Natural Resources Section of the Department of Justice.