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Bahamian national sentenced in international seafood smuggling operation

MIAMI - Robbie Franklin Smith, 45, of Bimini, Commonwealth of the Bahamas, was sentenced May 6 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to one year and one day in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for his role in the illegal importation of queen conch and spiny lobster from the Bahamas to the United States, which had been harvested and exported in violation of Bahamian law, all contrary to the Lacey Act.

The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Commonwealth of the Bahamas' Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources and Department of Marine Resources, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office for Law Enforcement and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

In December 2005, a vessel operated by a Miami-based seafood dealer, James Hanson, Jr., was intercepted by a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) patrol vessel. 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 supplied to Hansen in the Bahamas by Smith.

Hanson intended to land the seafood in the United States and market it through Hansen Seafood, Inc., a company which he owned. According to records in the related cases, between June and December 2005, on approximately a dozen occasions, Hanson purchased spiny lobster and conch harvested in Bahamian waters from Smith, and imported it illegally into the United States using boats owned through Hanson's companies and employees of his companies. The total fair market value of the trips exceeded $87,000.

Hanson, was previously convicted and sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $75,000, perform 300 hours of community service, and to serve a period of three years' probation. Hanson was also ordered to relinquish the proceeds of the seized product, which was valued at $13,930 and to forfeit the vessel intercepted by the USCG, which was used in the commission of the offense, a 37.8' fiberglass hulled sport fishing vessel named "Redeemed."

Queen conch (Strombus gigas) is a commercially valuable seafood product, which falls within the taxonomic phylum Mollusca. Queen conch is a protected species under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), 16 U.S.C. § 1533, and is a species listed for protection since 1992 in Appendix II of an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ("CITES"). A purpose of 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. More than 170 countries cooperate in the enforcement of the provisions of CITES, including the United States and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, by implementing domestic laws to effectuate its underlying goals.

No fine was imposed, as the court determined Smith lacked assets to satisfy a criminal fine.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.