Gardena Man Convicted of Attempting to Smuggle Protected Corals

Acropora coral, pictured in an undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Acropora coral, pictured in an undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A Gardena man faces up to 20 years in federal prison after he was convicted Thursday of attempting to smuggle protected corals, prosecutors said.

A federal jury in Los Angeles found Jose Torres, 44, guilty of attempting to illegally export wildlife, as well as two counts of making and submitting a false record for wildlife intended to be exported, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

He was accused of attempting to sell and ship protected reef-building corals to a Mexico-based company called Gabriela Herlinda Medina in 2013, DOJ spokeman Ciaran McEvoy said in a written statement. The company asked that the corals be shipped immediately, without waiting for the required permits under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

“On January 31, 2013, Torres attempted to ship the coral without the CITES permit,” according to McEvoy.

Torres made a false declaration at a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service district office in Torrance that he was shipping fish, McEvoy said. “In reality, Torres personally packed 40 boxes for shipment and he knew they contained protected coral.”

Torres then headed to Los Angeles International Airport, where he provided the 40 containers for shipment, along with bogus paperwork, prosecutors said. Fish and Wildlife Service officials inspected the cartons and seized 474 undeclared items, including many protected corals.

“Reef-building coral are protected under CITES because of their importance to ocean ecosystems and their vulnerability,” he added.

Torres faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison when he returns to court for sentencing on Feb. 10, officials said.

The case stemmed from a Fish and Wildlife Service investigation targeting wildlife smuggling called Operation Jungle Book.

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