Florida Man Sentenced for Illegal Coral Importing

Miami – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Hal Robbins, Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division, announced today that defendant Lawrence W. Beckman, 57, of Lake Park, Florida, was sentenced in federal District Court in West Palm Beach in connection with his illegal importation of approximately 500 pounds of live rock, coral, and sea fans illegally harvested from Bahamian waters. United States District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra, sentenced Beckman to three months in federal custody, followed by a two year term of supervised release. In addition, the Court ordered Beckman to pay a criminal fine of $2,000.Beckman had pled guilty in October to failing to obtain written permission from Bahamian authorities, as required by Bahamian conservation laws, to harvest hard and soft coral species within the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, all in violation of the federal Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372 and 3373. Although eligible for a probationary sentence under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Judge Marra stated in Court that a period of incarceration was warranted in light of Beckman’s history of repeated violations despite being charged and paying fines under state law over the past 10 years.

According to the Indictment filed in this matter, and statements during court proceedings, in October 2002, Beckman made a commercial harvesting trip from Lake Worth Inlet, Florida, to the area of West End in the Bahamas aboard his vessel the MARY ANNE. The purpose of the trip was to acquire merchandise to sell in an aquarium supply business located in Lake Park, owned by Beckman. After securing 500 specimens of Gorgonia, commonly referred to as sea fans, and 500 pounds of live rock and coral, Beckman steered a course for Lake Worth Inlet. Enroute, the Coast Guard Cutter Bluefin spotted the MARY ANNE running without required navigation lights and intercepted Beckman’s vessel.

Coast Guard boarding officers noted 4 large drums of fuel on the deck of the vessel and multiple sets of scuba equipment. During a safety and document check, they located the contraband corals in specially equipped “live wells” and in a converted fuel tank below a hatch cover in the main cabin, and took the MARY ANNE to the Coast Guard Station at Lake Worth Inlet. Beckman admitted to the Coast Guardsmen that he had been on a commercial harvesting trip to an area about 1.5 nautical miles east of Sandy Cay in the Bahamas and that he did not possess any permit from the Commonwealth allowing him to harvest marine resources from Bahamian waters. Subsequent investigation by NOAA agents revealed positions within the Bahamas on a Global Positioning System unit Beckman used aboard the MARY ANNE.

The Government of the Bahamas, under the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Regulations of the Commonwealth, Section 19, prohibits any person from taking or selling and hard or soft coral without the written permission of the Minister of Fisheries. This measure is intended to allow for the monitoring, control, and conservation of the coral resources of the Bahamian archipelagic waters. The protection extends to all coral rock, which is an invertebrate within the phylum coelenterate. The Lacey Act, the oldest national wildlife protection law in the United States, among other things, prohibits the possession, import, and transport of wildlife, including the corals involved in this case, which has been taken or possessed in violation of a conservation law of a foreign country.

Coral reef destruction has been the subject of intense debate both within the United States and at the meetings of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a treaty to which the United States and approximately 150 other countries are party. Loss of reef habitat, which is one of the most productive and diverse ecosystems, is a world-wide concern. As nurseries for marine species of commercial value, as well as a source of income from recreational fishing and eco-tourists, and a protective barrier for coastlines, a significant effort is underway to preserve the existing reef structures and reverse their decline.

Mr. Acosta commended the coordinated efforts of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement and the United States Coast Guard, which brought the matter to a successful conclusion. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.

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