Law Enforcement
Northeast Region

live coral discovered in shipments

New York Coral Smuggler Pleads Guilty

March 12, 2013

coral discovered in shipments
Coral discovered in shipments. Photo credit: USFWS

Yesterday Joseph Russo, co-owner of Russo's Reef, a New York wholesale marine supplier, pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal court to one felony count of smuggling rare live coral. The plea came after an 18-month investigation led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Valley Stream, New York Office of Law Enforcement.

According to Valley Steam officials, the investigation began when a wildlife inspector discovered live stony coral hidden in a shipment to Russo at JFK airport. Searches of subsequent shipments revealed that between 2006 and 2012 Russo routinely illegally imported live stony corals from foreign suppliers.

Russo altered documents and falsely labeled shipments of the corals, which are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and fines up to $500,000. Sentencing is set for July, 2013.

The estimated value of the illegally imported coral was $523,835.

CITES regulates trade in coral to ensure that certain species are not exploited and become threatened or endangered. Corals are live, ocean-dwelling animals important to marine ecosystems. Coral reefs protect coastal areas from storm surges, prevent shore erosion and keep ocean water clean through their filtering abilities.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit Connect with our Facebook page at, follow our tweets at, watch our YouTube Channel at and download photos from our Flickr page at

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Last updated: March 12, 2013