Michigan aquarium employee sentenced for illegal trafficking of marine life
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Tracy Dunn, Acting Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, and Edward Grace, Deputy Assistant Director, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, announce that Joseph Franko, 35, of Romulus, Michigan, was sentenced today in Key West for conspiring to purchase, transport, harvest and sell sea fans, ornamental tropical fish and alligators, knowing the wildlife was taken, possessed, transported, sold, and intended to be sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida, in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A), 3372(a)(4), and 3373(d)(1) and (2), all in violation of Title 18,United States Code, Section 371.
United States District Judge Jose E. Martinez, who had previously accepted Franko’s guilty plea, imposed a sentence of five months in prison, followed by five months of home confinement with electronic monitoring, and a two year term of supervised release. The Court determined that he was unable to pay a criminal fine. At the conclusion of the hearing Franko was remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service. Franko’s co-defendant, Richard Perrin, 80, also of Romulus, was sentenced in April in the same case to a three year term of probation, a criminal fine of $15,000, and forfeiture of the vehicle used in the commission of the Lacey Act violations.
According to the indictment and joint factual statements submitted to the Court, during the period extending from December 2008 through approximately December 2011, Perrin and Franko engaged in a conspiracy to purchase, harvest, and transport marine life and reptiles from Florida to Michigan for sale through a business known as Tropicorium, Inc. Perrin was the owner of Tropicorium, engaged in the day-to-day management and operation of the corporation, while Franko was an employee. Tropicorium was organized in 1993 under the laws of Michigan with its principal place of business in Romulus. Tropicorium was engaged in the purchase and retail sale of marine life and reptiles, including sharks, marine invertebrates, sea fans (Gorgonia flabellum and Gorgonia ventalina), ornamental tropical fish, and alligators (Alligator mississippiensis).
The defendants admitted that they failed to acquire or possess the licenses required by Florida Statute for the marine life they harvested during multiple trips to the Florida Keys. Additionally, the sea fans taken by the defendants and sold in Michigan are prohibited from being harvested from the waters of the State of Florida or the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. According to the Factual Statements, Perrin and Franko also made stops while en route to and from the Keys in the area of Big Cypress National Preserve, where they illegally poached juvenile alligators to sell through Tropicorium. Unknown to the defendants, on one occasion they actually sold a baby alligator and illegal sea fans from a Florida harvesting trip to an undercover Special Agent of the Fish & Wildlife Service. The two defendants also utilized a facility on Grassy Key as a maintenance base for their harvested marine life until they were ready to ship or transport the specimens to Michigan for sale.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and the Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. Mr. Ferrer also thanked the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.
Annette Castillo, USDOJ
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