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Fort Lauderdale orchid dealer indicted in international smuggling operation

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A 41-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Florida resident made his initial appearance today in United States Magistrate's Court in Miami after being charged by a federal grand jury, sitting in Miami, in connection with the illegal importation of more than 1,400 orchid plants from the Republic of the Philippines in February 2005. The indictment is the result of a joint law enforcement investigation between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Southeast Region, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General-Investigations.

Mac Rivenbark faces up to five years imprisonment as well as a criminal fine of up to $250,000. The case has been assigned to the Honorable Federico Moreno, United States District Court Judge, pending trial. No date has been set.

According to the criminal indictment and statements in court, orchids, which are plants within the family Orchidaceae, are protected under an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora. The purpose of the CITES is to monitor and restrict trade in certain species of fish, wildlife, and plants to protect them from commercial exploitation that might diminish the ability of the species to survive in the wild. The CITES employs a system which classifies species at risk into various appendices, based on the level of perceived risk to their survival in the wild. Appendix II of the CITES, in which the orchids at issue are listed, includes wildlife species which although not necessarily threatened with extinction now, may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is strictly regulated. More than 170 countries cooperate in the enforcement of the provisions of the CITES, including the United States and the Republic of the Philippines, by implementing domestic laws to effectuate its underlying goals. Orchids have been listed for protection since January 1975.

The indictment alleges that the CITES documents, and records, labels, and identification materials presented to U.S. authorities at Miami International Airport by Rivenbark during the importation and inspection of the orchid, consigned shipment falsely identified the orchids as artificially propagated, when in fact they were collected from the wild in the Republic of the Philippines.

R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the special agents of the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Southeast Region, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General-Investigations, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement which brought the investigation leading to the indictment. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.