A federal judge imposed a hefty fine and years of probation to a Michigan man involved in a scheme to illegally harvest marine life from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez last week sentenced Richard Perrin of Romulus, Mich., to three years probation and ordered him to pay $15,000 in fines. Perrin previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act on Dec. 2 as part of a plea agreement.
The government also ordered Perrin to "provide complete access to financial information, including disclosure of all business and personal finances" to his probation officer, according to court records.
Perrin, along with his employee and co-defendant Joseph Franko, were previously indicted on conspiracy of taking, transporting and selling illegally taken coral, sea fans, tropical fish, alligators and nurse sharks from the Keys, according to court documents.
Franko was tentatively scheduled to be sentenced before Martinez on April 14 in Key West.
Perrin, the owner of a Romulus, Mich.-based company called Tropicorium Inc. since 1993, and Franko both had faced a maximum of 10 years in federal prison if convicted.
Investigators allege the men worked with "known and unknown" co-conspirators to take marine life from the Keys for sale at their business. Sometimes, the men shipped the marine life by air, and other times they traveled to the Keys in a specially-equipped white 2008 Chevrolet van used to store marine life, reports state.
Perrin was caught trying to sell illegal marine life to an undercover agent at his store, records state.
Also on Dec. 2, Idaho Aquarium Inc. operator Ammon Covino accepted a plea agreement with that called for a year and a day in prison and two years probation in exchange for a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act.
Covino's co-defendant, Christopher Conk, who also was an operator of Idaho Aquarium, was sentenced to four months in prison followed by four months' probation as part of a plea agreement.
Covino and the company Idaho Aquarium Inc. are scheduled to be sentenced April 14 in Key West.
All the cases are the culmination of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) led investigation into the illegal marine wildlife trade stretching from the Florida Keys to California.
The investigation -- dubbed Operation Rock Bottom -- was spearheaded by federal agents operating out of South Florida and predominantly the Florida Keys.
The Lacey Act is the same law used to prosecute myriad Keys defendants in the lobster casita cases over the past five years. The act makes it a federal offense to import, export, transport, sell or purchase in interstate commerce any wildlife protected at the state level.