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10 Charged for Illegally Trafficking Corals from the Philippines
ANCHORAGE – A federal grand jury in Alaska indicted three men on felony charges and seven additional individuals on misdemeanor charges related to violations of the Lacey Act and smuggling protected marine corals from the Philippines into the United States for retail sale.
According to court documents, Jerome Anthony Stringfield, 43 of Kissimmee, Florida; Albert B. Correira, 35, of Westport, Massachusetts; and Allen William Ockey, 35, of Long Beach, California, are each charged with felony violations of conspiracy, violations of the Lacey Act and smuggling of corals from the Philippines.
In separate filings, the following individuals are each charged with misdemeanor offenses related to violations of the Lacey Act: Derek M. Kelley, 31 of Elkhart, Indiana; Wayne R. King, 42, of Cabot Arizona; James Knight 47, of Newaygo, Michigan; Valeriy V. Gorbounov, 46 of Morrison, Colorado; Nathan C. Meisner, 35, of Rapid City, South Dakota; Ricky A. Sprires, 34, of Gilbert South Carolina; and Michael J. Lecam, 50, of Providence, Rhode Island.
The indictment alleges that between July 2017 and August 2018, the defendants paid a Philippine national to dive for and collect protected marine corals. The Philippine national would illegally ship the collected coral through common carriers and falsely label the packages. All shipments landed and traveled through Anchorage, Alaska. The defendants would then sell the coral online to coral collectors and hobbyists. The indictment further alleges that some corals were illegally sold in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which is an international treaty implemented to prevent species from becoming endangered or extinct because of international commercial trade. Additionally, Philippine law prohibits any person to gather, possess, commercially transport, sell or export corals commercially regardless of CITES status. The indictment charges the defendants, through their Philippine supplier, for illegally purchasing and transporting for sale more than 3,000 separate pieces of coral in violation of Philippines and United States law.
The charging document in all 10 cases states that the Republic of the Philippines is one of six countries straddling the Coral Triangle, a 5.4 million-square-kilometer stretch of ocean that contains 75% of the world’s coral species, one-third of the Earth’s coral reefs and more than 3,000 species of fish. Poaching for corals and other factors have left only 5% of coral reefs in the Philippines in “excellent” condition, with only 1% in a “pristine” state.
The penalties for felony violations of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and a violation of the Lacey Act are a maximum term of imprisonment of five years, and a fine of $250,000. The maximum term of imprisonment for smuggling is a term of 20 years, and a fine of $250,000. The maximum penalty for misdemeanor conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and violating the Lacey Act is up to a year in prison and a fine of $100,000. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
U.S. Attorney John E. Kuhn, Jr. of the District of Alaska made the announcement.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven Skrocki and Charise Arce are prosecuting the cases.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.