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Arecibo Aquarium Owner Guilty of Two Felony Counts for Illegally Trafficking Protected Corals

SAN JUAN (Puerto Rico Buzz) – Aristides Sanchez, a resident of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty to two felony violations of the federal Lacey Act for collecting, purchasing, falsely labeling, and shipping protected marine invertebrate species as part of an effort to subvert Puerto Rican law designed to protect corals and other reef species, the Department of Justice announced.

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SAN JUAN (Puerto Rico Buzz) – Aristides Sanchez, a resident of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty on Aug. 23, to two felony violations of the federal Lacey Act for collecting, purchasing, falsely labeling, and shipping protected marine invertebrate species as part of an effort to subvert Puerto Rican law designed to protect corals and other reef species, the Department of Justice announced.

Bill of Information and Plea Agreement

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Sanchez was the owner of the Arecibo-based saltwater aquarium business, Wonders of the Reef Aquarium. A large part of the business was devoted to the sale of native Puerto Rican marine species that are popular in the saltwater aquarium trade. Sanchez sent live specimens to customers in the mainland United States and foreign countries by commercial courier services. One of the most popular items that Sanchez sent off-island was an organism from the genus Ricordea. These animals are known as “rics,” “polyps,” or “mushrooms” in the aquarium industry. Members of the genus form part of the reef structure and spend their adult lives fastened in place to the reef. These animals are colorful in natural light, but what makes them particularly interesting to aquarium owners is that they “glow” under the UV lights that are typically used in high-end saltwater aquariums.

“Coral reefs surrounding the island of Puerto Rico are some of the most valued and fragile natural resources in the region,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Division will continue to work with its enforcement partners to prosecute those who illegally harm the marine environment for commercial gain.”

“We will continue to prosecute those who exploit our protected marine life for financial gain,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico. “We appreciate the support of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agents in this investigation.”

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“This investigation, serves as a fine example of ongoing joint investigative efforts related to the entire span of the marine life trade,” said Resident Agent in Charge David Pharo of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Whether responsibility lies as the initial harvester, wholesaler, retailer or a public aquarium, the USFWS and partner agencies stand ready to investigate the matter and bring those responsible for poaching our nations sensitive marine life resources to justice.”

“Our partnerships are vital to helping ensure the protection and sustainability of living marine resources. This investigation is another great example of how successful partnerships lead to effective results,” said Deputy Director Logan Gregory of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement. “Investigating and bringing to justice those who exploit protected marine life is vital in helping to ensure a healthy ocean.”

It is illegal to harvest Ricordea, zoanthids, and anemones in Puerto Rico if the specimens are going to be sent off-island or otherwise sold commercially, nor is there a permit available to do so. Sanchez personally collected some of the Ricordea and other reef creatures that he sold off-island. On multiple occasions, he would accompany another person and they would snorkel from the shoreline in search of Ricordea. Because Ricordea are attached to the reef substrate, Sanchez would utilize a chisel to break off the animals, and in doing so, take chunks of the reef with him. At other times, Sanchez would purchase the Ricordea from other sources, knowing or suspecting that the specimens had been harvested illegally.

 

In order to cover up the nature of his shipments and to avoid detection from governmental inspection authorities, Sanchez would falsely label each shipment. The false labeling was one of identification whereby Sanchez would refer to living marine organisms as “pet supplies,” “aquarium supplies,” “LED lights,” or similar inanimate objects on shipping labels and invoices. At times, he used a fake name to cover his actions.

From January 2013 to March 2016, Sanchez sent or caused to be sent at least 130 shipments of falsely labeled marine species that were illegally harvested in the waters of Puerto Rico. While there is some variation in the price of Ricordea depending on coloration, size, and other factors, the retail value of Ricordea shipped by Sanchez typically ranges from $25 to $50 per item. From on or about January 7, 2013, through on or about March 16, 2016, the retail value of the falsely labeled and/or unlawfully harvested marine invertebrates shipped personally by Sanchez, or on his behalf with his knowledge, was between $800,000 and $1,200,000.

 

Sanchez is scheduled to be sentenced on December 20, 2017.

This case was investigated as part of Operation Rock Bottom and Operation Borinquen Chisel by Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with support from the USFWS Inspectors. The case is being prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Carmen Marquez of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.

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Puerto Rico is Open for Tourists

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(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico Buzz) – Travelocity® and Expedia Media Solutions®, in collaboration with the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, are ramping up efforts to help shift public perception of the situation in Puerto Rico, this week.

Puerto Rico has always been a popular destination for travelers, as well as a fantastic, long-term partner, and we jumped at the chance to work with Travelocity to support the Puerto Rico Tourism Company,” said Wendy Olson Killion, global senior director for Expedia Media Solutions. “The collaborative campaign will ensure new and repeat visitors know Puerto Rico is again open for tourism, and that tourism will positively impact the island’s economy and contribute to recovery efforts.”

Approximately 68,000 locals are employed in the tourism sector, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. With this importance to the economy, the simple and enjoyable act of visiting Puerto Rico can make a huge difference. For more information on the Island, travelers can also visit SeePuertoRico.com.

“We are thrilled to have our Travelocity and Expedia partners join in spreading the word that the Island is, in fact, open for tourism,” said Carla Campos, acting executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. “It is with pride and hospitality, traits that characterize our people, that we welcome visitors with open arms, because coming to visit us is the best way to support us right now.”

The campaign, which was donated on behalf of Travelocity and Expedia Media Solutions, includes on site advertising placements, a dedicated page highlighting the hotels and resorts that are open for business in Puerto Rico, and useful content about the country on the Travelocity “Inspire” blog.

Travelocity is offering $150 off a $1500 package booking with code CARIBNOW from now until February 6th, 2018 for travel between now and September 16th, 2018. For full terms and conditions visit http://travelocity.us/PuertoRico.

SOURCE Travelocity

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Rosselló Asks Police Officers to Return to Work

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(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico Buzz) – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked members of the Puerto Rico Police Department to return to work, Jan. 8.

The massive absenteeism of police officers has been largely attributed to the lack of overtime pay in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, but some say it goes back even further.

“I ask of any partner of the uniformed force that is not attending [work]at this moment – I ask of them to return,” said Rosselló. It’s not just about giving a message about a series of initiatives, but it’s a matter of safety for our people.

Rosselló is currently evaluating how police officers that missed work, will be reprimanded.

“We’re establishing which administrative measures will take place,” said Rosselló. There’s a lot of information that needs to be gathered.

At times, approximately 8,000 police officers have missed worked, out of about 14,000 islandwide.

Police union representatives have said that police officers are using their sick and holiday time available.

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Watch Carmen Yulín Suck Up a Load of Bribe Cash

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(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico Buzz) – Here we go again. Another Carmen Yulín appearance on The Simpsons.

Spoiler alert: Donald Trump tries to bribe Robert Mueller with a room full of cash. Mueller leaves.

Then Carmen Yulín walks into the room dressed as a housemaid before revealing her usual “comandante de la revolución” outfit.

Yulín then pulls out a vacuum cleaner to suck up the loads of American cold-hard-cash bribe money.

Mueller Meets Trump, Season 29

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