Two Grassy Key men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harvest marine life from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, on Wednesday in federal court in Key West.
Eric Paul Pedersen, 51, and Serdar Ercan, 42, both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and face a maximum of five years in federal prison, up to three years' supervised release and fines of up to $250,000 when they are sentenced Dec. 4 at the Sidney M. Aronovitz courthouse, 301 Simonton St.
Both men told U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez they harvested and sold many different live coral and shark species from Keys waters from 2010 through 2012.
The men operate a company called Key Marine Inc., based on Grassy Key, which is just north of Marathon.
Neither had the required state or federal permits, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald told Martinez.
Both men have "cooperated fully" with federal investigators since National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents raided their business in February 2011, Watts-Fitzgerald said.
On Tuesday, two Idaho men and their company pleaded guilty to buying sea life illegally collected in the Florida Keys -- from Pedersen and Ercan, the government says, according to court records.
Idaho Aquarium Inc. owners Ammon Covino and Christopher Conk, both 40, told U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez they bought $6,300 in lemon sharks and spotted eagle rays.
Both also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and face the same maximum five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000 when they are sentenced Dec. 1. Their sentencing will also be at the Sidney M. Aronovitz courthouse on Simonton Street.
The Lacey Act 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 myriad Keys defendants in the lobster casita cases over the past five years.