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 Edward Saul Arias Ducker, 40, a Honduran national, has been convicted on his plea to charges in a criminal Indictment in connection with a conspiracy to smuggle large quantities of queen conch taken from Honduran waters and laundered through Columbia 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.
The charges in the Indictment carry a possible sentence of up to five years of imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and a criminal fine of the greater of $250,000, or twice the intended gain from the relevant conduct. Arias entered his guilty plea in Miami before United States District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz, who set sentencing in the matter for May 15, 2009 at 8:30 am.
According to a Joint Factual Statement signed by the parties, and other Court documents, from about May 2004 through November 2006, the defendant Arias, and other co-conspirators, including the owners of Caribbean Conch, Inc., and Placeres & Sons Seafood, Inc., companies located in Hialeah, Florida engaged in the business of selling seafood products, caused the shipment of more than 115,000 pounds of queen conch from Honduras and Columbia to Canada and the United States without proper permits. Arias’s role included arranging for vessels under his control, on two separate occasions, to transfer Queen conch, harvested in Honduran waters, to Colombian vessels at sea, for landing and processing in Columbia.
The co-conspirators’ 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, all of which had originated with defendant Arias. According to Court records, the retail value of the smuggled queen conch was over $1.725 million
Mr. Acosta commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NOAA Office For Law Enforcement, and Wildlife Officers of Environment Canada’s Wildlife Enforcement Division, in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver who brought the case to a successful conclusion. The case is being handled by AUSA Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
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 by Environment Canada may be found on www.ec.gc.ca.