MIAMI (Reuters) - A Venezuelan man charged with smuggling more than 100 specimens of fish and live coral out of the United States in his luggage faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine after he was arrested trying to board a plane from Miami to Caracas in May.
Oscar Cordova-Cobian, 42, pleaded not guilty in a Miami federal court on Monday to a charge of exporting 136 protected marine species.
At the time of his arrest, Cordova-Cobian told U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials he had more than 300 clients in Venezuela who buy coral, fish and other ocean wildlife “for twice the amount paid in the U.S. plus a 20 per cent charge to cover his transportation costs,” according to court documents.
On his previous trip to the United States, Cordova-Cobian brought back more than 100 fish worth $2,000, court documents said.
None of the live corals, rock, and clams found in Cordova-Cobian’s carry-on and checked luggage were endangered, however all fell under an international agreement requiring their trade be regulated to protect existing populations.
His lawyer in Miami could not be reached for comment.
Florida is a hotbed for the illegal wildlife trade, both for import and export. Concerns among wildlife officials remain high, as animals that grow too large are often released. Many find their way into wildlife sanctuaries like the Everglades where they multiply and threaten local species.
In recent years the illegal animal trade has moved online and Cordova-Cobian, who once owned a pet shop in Caracas, now works through his website granjadecoral.com offering ornamental fish and corals, according to court documents.
Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams and Eric Beech