DOJ Sentences Business Owner For Trafficking ‘Protected Reef Creatures’

(Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Jesse Stiller Contributor
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A Puerto Rican man was sentenced to federal prison for his role in a trafficking scheme that targeted protected reef creatures around the island.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in a statement on Monday that Aristides Sanchez, the former owner of saltwater aquarium business Wonders of the Reef, was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for trafficking and the false labeling of protected creatures.

Sanchez was also sentenced to a two-year supervised release term and 120 hours of community service, the DOJ said. He was also prohibited from collecting and shipping marine life, in addition to scuba diving and snorkeling in Puerto Rico.

The DOJ said that Sanchez had illegally harvested coral-like organisms called “Ricordea,” also known as  “polyps,” as well as other protected creatures from the ocean. He allegedly used a hammer to break off animals that were attached to the reef’s substrate. (RELATED: Humans Making So Much Noise On The Oceans That Fish Can’t Hear Each Other)

In an effort to avoid Puerto Rican law, Sanchez mislabeled each shipment before it was shipped to customers in the mainland United States, the DOJ said. He would label these boxes “pet supplier” or “LED lights,” and use an alias to cover his identity.

Over 130 shipments of the illegally-harvested reef creatures were sent to customers overseas between January 2013 and March of 2016, the DOJ said. He received at least $800,000 from his shipments during the period.

In November of 2020, another Puerto Rico resident pleaded guilty to two violations of the Lacey act, both felony charges, for collecting and shipping protected reef creatures following his arrest by the DOJ.