Florida Keys News
Friday, November 15, 2013
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Shark trader avoids prison
AquaTop closes, Trinh ends career

A California aquarium wildlife trader who illegally bought and sold juvenile nurse sharks trapped in the Florida Keys has avoided federal prison time as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Dean Trinh, 43, of Milpitas, Calif., was sentenced Tuesday to five months home detention as part of and forfeiture of his truck, boat and trailer, according to a sentencing memorandum filed in three years probation, payment of $14,000 in restitution, fines of $10,000, the Northern District of California, U.S. District Court.

Trinh had been facing as much as 30 years in prison.

That report states Trinh is out of the aquarium business and his former company, AquaTop USA, no longer exists. Trinh has reportedly taken LED lights normally used in the aquarium trade for use as energy-efficient lighting in offices in San Francisco as part of his new company, SoLed Energy, Inc.

The plea agreement itself was sealed, but the sentencing memorandum filed by his defense attorney states that he has no prior criminal history, and that he took sharks that were close to the legal size and never took species that were endangered.

Trinh was arrested June 7. Prosecutors say he bought 74 sharks from the late Marathon-based commercial lobster fisherman Allan Wagner between August 2009 and August 2012. Wagner died in April of natural causes.

Trinh also had been indicted May 23 in California in a similar case involving protected leopard sharks.

In both cases, Trinh is accused of using his business, AquatopUSA, to sell the fish for display in aquariums.

He pleaded guilty in August in San Francisco.

In a similar case, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King on June 13 ordered the Pompano Beach-based Aquatic Trading Co. to pay $3,000 in fines and surrender all its Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission licenses, permits and endorsements.

Owners Walter and Lila Bloecker had already been sentenced on April 18 to 90 days of house arrest and one year probation.

Federal investigators said the couple conspired with Keys divers to illegally harvest juvenile nurse sharks and other protected fish from Monroe County waters from June 16 to Oct. 31, 2012.

There have a litany of similar arrests made this year by federal agents with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife who have been targeting those who allegedly take wildlife illegally from Keys waters for sale in the saltwater aquarium trade.

All accused have been charged with violating the Lacey Act, which makes it a federal offense to import, export, transport, sell or purchase in interstate commerce any wildlife protected at the state level.

It's the same law used to prosecute many Keys defendants in the lobster casita cases over the past five years.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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