Miami Business Owners Sentenced in Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Operation | USAO-SDFL

MIAMI – Alvaro Y. Cortes, 62, Olga L. Aya Rodriguez, 53, both of Doral, Florida, and Planet Express Cargo & Courier Corp., a Miami company, were sentenced today in federal district court in Miami for their involvement in a conspiracy to knowingly export fish and wildlife knowing that the fish and wildlife were transported and sold in violation of federal law.

Ariana Fajardo Orshan, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David G. Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Manny Antonaras, Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA/OLE), Southeast Division, Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Miami, Daniel Alonso, Acting Director of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Miami/Tampa, made the announcement.

U.S. District Judge Darrin P. Gayles, who previously accepted guilty pleas from each of defendant, sentenced Cortes and Aya Rodriguez each to a term of six months’ imprisonment, a term of supervised release of one year, and a criminal fine of $7,500.00.  Judge Gayles placed PECC on probation for four years.

According to court documents, the parties’ joint factual proffer, and in-court statements, Cortes and Aya Rodriguez conducted business as Planet Express Cargo & Courier Corp., which principally engaged in business as a freight forwarder, consolidating cargo freight for international shipment, primarily to Colombia, South America. From May 2014 through July 2015, the defendants provided international shipping manifests to United Parcel Service that falsely identified shipments of fish and corals that had been delivered to PECC’s business premises by its customers as “Accesorios de Acuario” (“aquarium accessories”). As part of the conspiracy, PECC and its principals failed to acquire permits required for the export of certain of the species in the shipments and failed to declare to the Fish & Wildlife Service and CBP that they were exporting wildlife. Based on the fraudulent documents, the fish and wildlife was exported from the United States to Colombia.

All fish and wildlife exported from the United States, must first be made available for inspection and properly declared to FWS and CBP, pursuant to Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Sections 14.52 and 14.63. The regulations require the exporter or exporter’s agent to provide specific documentation and information to the FWS in order to have a shipment of merchandise cleared for export, prior to the physical loading of the merchandise on a vehicle or aircraft, and prior to the palletization of the shipment for export. The required notice must include all shipping documents, permits, and licenses, and a listing of the fish and wildlife being exported. Additionally, the exporter or exporter’s agent is required to present an executed Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife (Form 3-177) to the FWS prior to the exportation, which Form requires identification of the merchandise by scientific name, common name, quantity, and value. Further, Form 3-177 requires proper identification of the shipper and the consignee, and an attestation that all the information being provided is true and correct. Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Sections 14.52 and 14.63.

In addition to the false manifests generated at PECC, employees of PECC, at the direction of its principals, obscured markings on the boxes of wildlife which identified them as containing live fish, by taping over the labeling and wrapping everything in black plastic. They did this so that  United Parcel Service employees and government authorities would not realize the shipments contained un-inspected wildlife. The government also presented evidence at sentencing that, in  addition to the number of shipments identified in the count of conviction, the defendants had been involved in the export of almost 1,000 such shipments to Colombia.

Ms. Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents and Wildlife Inspectors of the Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Special Agents of NOAA/OLE and HSI, and Officers of the Customs and Border Protection who participated in the investigation This matter is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Thomas Watts-FitzGerald of the Economic & Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Cheek.

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.   

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