LAWFUEL – Legal Announcements – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Eddie McKissick, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and H. Jeff Radonski, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office for Law Enforcement, announced that defendants Janitse Martinez, 34, and Ramon Placeres, 58, both of Miami, Florida, were sentenced in federal District Court in connection with a conspiracy to smuggle large quantities of queen conch taken from Caribbean waters to customers throughout Canada and the United States, in violation of the laws, treaties, and regulations of the United States, contrary to the Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(1) and 3373(d)(1)(A), all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
United States District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan imposed a sentence of two months imprisonment on both Martinez and Placeres, followed by a one year term of supervised release. In addition, a criminal fine of $10,000 was imposed against Placeres.
According to the criminal Information, a sworn affidavit in support of a search warrant issued in this matter, and statements in Court, from about May 2004 through November 2006, Martinez and Placeres were, respectively, the owners of Caribbean Conch, Inc., and Placeres & Sons Seafood, Inc., companies located in Hialeah, Florida, and engaged in the business of selling seafood products. During the relevant period, the defendants caused the shipment of more than 111,000 pounds of queen conch from Haiti and Columbia to Canada and the United States without proper permits.
Queen conch (Strombus gigas) is a commercially valuable seafood product, that is a protected species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) and is a species listed for protection since 1992 in an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ( “CITES”). The importation of queen conch, alive or dead, and its parts and derivatives, is subject to the requirements of CITES and the ESA. To engage in trade in queen conch, all imports or exports must be accompanied by a CITES export certificate from the country of origin, or a re-export permit from a country of re-export.
The defendants’ smuggling activities were detected in March 2006 when a shipment of 2,100 pounds of queen conch, falsely labeled as “Frozen Whelk meat, product of Canada” was intercepted by a Fish & Wildlife Service Inspector at the Peace River bridge in Buffalo, New York, consigned to Caribbean Conch, Inc., in Hialeah. The Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Forensic Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon conducted DNA analysis of the seafood product and confirmed it was queen conch, and not whelk as indicated on the shipping documents.
Investigative efforts by Canadian and American enforcement authorities led to the simultaneous execution of search warrants in both countries and the seizure of more than 63,000 pounds of illegally traded queen conch. Additionally, Investigators with Environment Canada, Wildlife Enforcement Division were successful in bringing criminal charges against a Canadian corporation and the two Miami-based co-conspirators, who have also been convicted in Halifax, Nova Scotia in connection with offenses under Canadian law.
Mr. Acosta commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NOAA Office For Law Enforcement, and the Wildlife Officers of Environment Canada’s Wildlife Enforcement Branch, Wildlife Enforcement Division, in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver which brought the investigation to a successful conclusion. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Certified Legal Intern Leslie Armendariz.
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 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 www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov. Related information regarding the investigation and conviction by Environment Canada may be found on www.ec.gc.ca.