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Contraband
09/23/2008

Miami seafood dealer convicted and sentenced in international smuggling operation

MIAMI - A 44-year-old Miami seafood dealer was convicted and sentenced on September 22, 2008, on charges related to the illegal import of quantities of queen conch and spiny lobster from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas to the United States following a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

James Hanson, Jr., of Bal Harbor, FL, and president of Hanson Seafood, Inc., and J.R.J.T., Inc., both Florida corporations, was arrested by ICE and NOAA agents after surrendering himself at the U.S. District Court, Southern District of on July 9, 2008. The defendant was charged with knowingly illegally importing, transporting, receiving, and purchasing wildlife in foreign commerce that is spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) and queen conch (Strombus gigus).

According to the allegations in the Information and statements in court, Hanson's private fishing vessel/pleasure boat was intercepted by a Coast Guard patrol vessel while en route to Miami from Bimini, Bahamas.

During a boarding and inspection, officers found more than 1,000 pounds of undeclared spiny lobster and approximately 340 pounds of queen conch, which had been purchased in the Bahamas. Hanson's intention was to land the seafood in the United States and market it through Hanson Seafood, Inc., a company which he owned.

United States District Court Judge Joan Lenard accepted the guilty plea from the defendant and imposed sentence during the same proceeding. James Hanson received the benefit of having cooperated with the government's investigation and was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $75,000, ordered to perform 300 hours of community service, and to serve a period of three year's probation.  He was also ordered to relinquish any claim to the proceeds of the seized product, which was valued at $13,930. Additionally, J.R.J.T., Inc., which is wholly owned by Hanson, was ordered to forfeit the boat used in the commission of the offense, a 2000, 37.8' fiberglass hulled sport fishing vessel, "Redeemed." Hanson Seafood, Inc., also wholly owned by Hanson, is no longer an active business entity.

In imposing sentence, the court took into consideration the pending donation by Hanson of approximately 223 acres of undeveloped property on Windley Key near Tavernier, Florida, to the State of Florida for preservation as a part of the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park.

United States Attorney R. Alexander Acosta commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the NOAA Office for Law Enforcement, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement which brought the investigation to a successful conclusion.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.