(Fwd) FLORIDA IMPORTER SENTENCED IN LANDMARK CORAL SMUGGLING C
slkyshrk at sgi.net
Mon Dec 6 01:11:01 EST 1999
Apologies to those who receive FWS News. I thought this would be
of interest to the Coral Listers.
Wendy Jo Shemansky
------- Forwarded message follows -------
Subject: FLORIDA IMPORTER SENTENCED IN LANDMARK CORAL SMUGGLING CASE
To: fws-news at web2.irm.r9.fws.gov
From: NEWS at fws.gov
Date sent: Thu, 2 Dec 1999 15:59:23 -0500
============================================================ December 2, 1999 Patricia Fisher, Fish and Wildlife
Sandy Cleva, Fish and
Wildlife Service, 703-358-1949
Christine A. Romano,
Department of Justice, 202-616-0903
FLORIDA IMPORTER SENTENCED IN LANDMARK CORAL SMUGGLING CASE
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Florida man and his company were sentenced today in the
first successful felony prosecution ever for illegal coral trafficking. Petros "Pete" Leventis
will serve 18 months in prison followed by three years
of supervised release and pay a $5,000 fine
and a $200 special assessment for his role in a smuggling operation that used false declarations,
invoices, and shipping documents to circumvent U.S. and Philippine laws as well as
international trade restrictions that protect corals and other marine species. His company,
Greek Island Imports, was fined $25,000, sentenced to five years probation, and ordered to pay
an $800 special assessment in U.S. District Court in Tampa.
A federal investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of Law
Enforcement and the U.S. Customs Service, revealed that Leventis smuggled internationally
protected corals and seashells from the Philippines to the United States.
"Coral reefs are among the world's most biologically diverse and economically
important ecosystems; they are also among the most imperiled," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "Stopping illegal coral trade is a vital part of U.S. and
international efforts to save these resources."
In August 1999, a federal jury found Leventis and his company guilty of smuggling and
violating the Lacey Act a federal statute that makes it a crime to import or export wildlife
taken in violation of a foreign, state, tribal, or other U.S. law.
"Trafficking in endangered species like coral threatens aquatic ecosystems," said Lois
Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural
Resources. "Let the message be clear: We will take whatever steps we can here and abroad to
stop the black market in endangered species and protect coral reefs."
Coral reefs are home to nearly one-fourth of the world's ocean fish and thousands of
other marine organisms. Reef ecosystems also contribute billions of dollars to the global
economy, supporting tourism and other industries.
Commercial exploitation is a serious threat to the survival of the world's reefs, more
than half of which are considered at risk because of human activities. Dangers range from
unsustainable trade and destructive fishing practices to coastal development and marine
pollution. Large-scale degradation of reefs has already occurred in east Africa, south and
southeast Asia, parts of the Pacific, and the Caribbean.
Concern for reef conservation prompted the Philippines to ban the export of corals in
1977. Many of the species targeted by Leventis, including the blue, organ-pipe, branch, brush,
staghorn, finger, brown stem, mushroom, and feather corals, have been listed on Appendix II of
the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES) since 1985. Such species may not be legally traded without proper documentation
from the country where they are collected.
"Profiteering at the expense of coral reefs will not go unchecked," Clark said. "As the
world's largest consumer of corals and other reef species, the United States is leading the way
to ensure that demand for these marine treasures does not ultimately destroy them."
Leventis' smuggling activities came to the government's attention in July 1997 when a
40-foot shipping container loaded with some 400 boxes and packages of coral and sea shells
arrived in Tampa. Special agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Customs Service
then documented a six-year series of transactions involving protected corals and seashells
between Leventis and Esther Flores, the owner of a Philippine seashell and souvenir exporting
In November 1998, Leventis and Flores were indicted on smuggling and wildlife
charges. The Justice Department in February 1999 filed papers with the Philippines seeking the
extradition of Flores.
Leventis' Lacey Act and smuggling convictions were tied to the July 1997 shipment to
Tampa, as well as an illegal 1993 coral importation.
Regulating the coral trade is difficult. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife
inspectors, Customs officials, and their global counterparts must handle large shipments of both
dead and perishable live corals, and be able to identify the different reef species found in trade.
The scientific information that exporting countries need to assess the effects of trade is often
unavailable, and many nations lack the resources to fully implement and enforce trade controls.
Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Justice Department are participating in the
U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (a coalition of federal agencies established by the President) and
are working with other coral reef nations and the global CITES community to reduce threats to
reefs, including those associated with trade. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service organized a
workshop on coral identification for North American wildlife enforcement officers a year ago
and provided similar training to all of its own inspectors this fall. On December 6, 1999, the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which chairs the trade subgroup of the Coral Reef Task Force,
will hold a public meeting to discuss the U.S. role in the coral trade and receive comments
about whether there is a need for new authority to restrict commerce in certain coral reef
"We encourage Americans to be conservation-minded consumers when it comes to the
purchase of corals and coral reef products," Clark said. Travelers overseas should check U.S.
and local laws before buying coral souvenirs and bringing them home. Purchasers in this
country, including marine aquarium owners as well as curio seekers, can help protect coral reefs
by insisting that retailers only stock coral reef products harvested from sustainable sources.
The case was jointly prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of
Florida and the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Note to media: B-roll film of corals is available by contacting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service Public Affairs at (202) 208-5634. Photographs of the smuggled corals and a fact
sheet on corals can be found at the FWS Website, www.fws.gov
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"The library of life is on fire, and we must put it out."
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Wendy Jo Shemansky
Environmental Research Science and Management
Environmental News Director, West Penn Scuba Divers
slkyshrk at sgi.net
(412) 244 - 3318
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