The owners of a Pompano Beach-based wholesale aquarium supply company conspired with Florida Keys divers to illegally harvest juvenile nurse sharks and other protected fish from Monroe County waters, according to a federal indictment.
Walter and Lila Bloecker of Aquatic Trading Co., which imports and sells ornamental fish, corals and other aquarium supplies, were indicated on charges of conspiracy and illegally purchasing and selling protected fish and sharks. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of five years' prison.
The company also is charged in the indictment, and faces up to $500,000 in combined fines.
Prosecutors allege that while Walter Bloecker possessed a state license, he did not have the federal Atlantic shark dealer permit required when selling animals across state lines.
Lila Bloecker is responsible for the day-to-day operation of Aquatic Trading, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege the couple and "known and unknown co-conspirators" removed nurse shark pups and oversized angelfish from the Florida Keys to sell to a business owner in Michigan from June 16 to Oct. 31, 2012.
Walter Bloecker allegedly covered up the sale by filing false paperwork that made it appear the shark pups were imported from Nicaragua. In other alleged illegal sales, he is accused of labeling the sharks as moray eels.
That process allegedly was repeated 11 times during the time frame cited.
The alleged crimes fall under a federal animal conservation law known as the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to import, export, transport, sell or purchase in interstate commerce any wildlife protected at the state level.
Federal prosecutors have prosecuted many Lacey Act cases in the past five years in the Florida Keys, especially targeting lobster divers who use illegal artificial habitats called casitas.