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Fri Aug 13 14:21:35 EDT 1999

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August 13, 1999
Sandy Cleva 703-358-1949
Patricia Fisher 202-208-5634


A federal investigation of illegal coral trafficking, spearheaded
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, resulted in the August 9,
1999, criminal convictions of a Tarpon Springs, Florida man and
his business for smuggling internationally protected corals from
the Phillippines to the United States.  The guilty verdicts
against Petros "Pete" Leventis and Greek Island Imports, Inc.,
which were handed down by a federal jury in Tampa, Florida, after
a week-long trial, represent what Justice Department officials
believe to be the first federal felony convictions for smuggling
protected coral species.

"Coral reefs, which are home to nearly one-quarter of all fish
species, are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on
earth; they are also among the most imperiled," said Service
Acting Director John Rogers.  "Stopping the illegal commercial
exploitation of coral species is a vital part of U.S. and
international efforts to save these resources."

Leventis, and his business, Greek Island Imports, Inc. were
indicted in November 1998 on conspiracy, smuggling, and wildlife
charges along with Esther T. Flores, the owner and operator of a
seashell and souvenir exporting business located in Cebu City,
Republic of the Philippines.  The pair were accused of conspiring
to smuggle protected corals and seashells into the United States
from that country using 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.

Commercial exploitation is a serious threat to the continued
viability of the world's coral reefs, nearly 60 percent of which
are considered at risk because of human activities.  Dangers
range from illegal 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 and his alleged supplier (which include 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 export permits from the country of origin.

On Monday, Leventis and his company were found guilty on two
counts of violating the Lacey Act   a federal statute that makes
it a crime in this country to import wildlife taken in violation
of a foreign, state, tribal, or other U.S. law.  They were also
convicted of one felony count under the federal anti-smuggling

Leventis will be sentenced in November and could spend up to five
years in jail and be fined up to $250,000 for each of his three
felony convictions.  His company faces fines of up to $500,000
per count.

"Profiteering at the expense of coral reefs will not go
unchecked.  The United States is committed to the rigorous
enforcement of the laws and treaties that protect coral species
worldwide," said Rogers.

The federal investigation of Leventis' smuggling activities began
in July 1997 when a Service wildlife inspector intercepted
a 40-foot shipping container packed with some 350 boxes and
packages of coral and seashells in Tampa, Florida.  Fish and
Wildlife Service special agents and U.S. Customs Service officers
successfully documented a series of transactions involving
protected corals and seashells between the U.S. businessman and
his alleged Philippine supplier that extended back to 1991.
Leventis' Lacey Act and smuggling convictions are tied to the
1997 shipment as well as an illegal 1993 coral importation.

The case was jointly prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the
Middle District of Florida and the Wildlife and Marine Resources
Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.  The United States has
filed papers with the Philippines seeking the extradition of

Coral and seashell items are often sold as souvenirs in gift
shops and other stores in the United States and around the world.
Consumers in this country should make sure these products are
legal before buying them, and Americans who travel overseas
should check U.S. laws before trying to bring home coral and
shell souvenirs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal
agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing
fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing
benefit of the American people.  The Service manages the 93-
million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more
than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands,
and other special management areas.  It also operates 66 national
fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance
offices, and 78 ecological services field stations.  The agency
enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered
Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores
nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife
habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with
their conservation efforts.  It also oversees the Federal Aid
program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in
excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife

                            -F W S-

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